Friday, August 30, 2019

“Lets celebrate the inanity of being abandoned”: On Grief Sequences and Week/End New Poetry from Prageeta Sharma and Sarah Duncan

Prageeta Sharma

Sarah Duncan
Prageeta Sharma

Sarah Duncan reading.

Or maybe I’m just seeing them.
And they were always there.
However they arrived,
I’m gravitating to them now.
Or  they are to me?
To Walt and Hart and Harold N crossing the Brooklyn Ferry.
Allen G.  and Lynn B Howling in San Francisco,
Taking it to the left Coast.
Beatitudes exploding.
I first met Sarah Duncan in  the street.
She wearing a clown nose,
Occupying Broadway along with the rest of us.
Occupy Broadway
Occupy Broadway,
Reclaim the Empty Space.
At Judson
Al El Jardin del Paraiso
Where we read poems in the trees.
One poem after another,
Each more and more personal,
From their lives, other peoples’ stories  to our own.
In and of this living theater.

Prageeta and Sarah new have books of poems,
Worth reading and  holding.
Learning from.

I first got to know Prageeta.
When we moved to Sackett Street,
We met Dale and Pragreeta.
Two of the best neighbors.
A little Sophies Choice in our corner of Brooklyn,
Nathan was the co-op board.
Inviting  and  conniving.
We laughed about our common foe.
Instant comradery.
Cozy fireplace moments,
Wine and friendship.
Welcoming Imogene to this world in 2003,
 Dale greeted our first child.
Who greeted us.
He’d been there before.
This was our first round.
Bombs fell.
More US invasions,
And NYC would never be the same.
We would never be the same.
He said hello to her Dec 31, 2003.
The little one but a few months old.
Toasting to her,
“Look she’s toasting  us,” he said,
Recognizing  her gesture.
Ushering  in the new year.
Dale was an artist, 
An old New Yorker, crotchety and lovely.
Prageeta a poet,
Understanding the importance of the irreverent, 
The playful.
Writing about underwear.
Going to St Marks poetry readings.
Twenty four hours in a row.
Welcome 2004.
Life got busy.
Arrests and American fascism looming.
Permawar everywhere.
In an Orwellian nightmare.
The Republicans were coming.
Our meetings less frequent.
Dale slowed.
The limp increased.
In a final meeting, she reminded me:
“Think of poetry - it could not be less important and more meaningful.”
And they moved away.
Out West.
To Montana.
We made our way to LA. 
We came back.
They never returned.
Prageeta posted notes on Facebook.
Dale made vlogs.
Funny, irreverent.
And slowed.
Prageeta left
Wrenching notes.
He got sicker.
“My beloved….”
She wrote.
A thousand messages.
No reply.
But the gestures remained.
Somewhere between narrative and historical truth.

I wrote about our lost neighbor.
Touched and changed,
Just as we knew him,
 it was over.

Prageeta left holding the  bill.
Faced it.
Still standing.

Prageeta traces the
“disorienting experience,” as a
Grief Sequence.
Its a space that eludes,
 “…attempt any semblance, poetic or otherwise, of clear sense in trauma. …
 grief, frustrating to logic and yet as real as any experience we might know,
 ripe for the sort of intellectual and emotional processing of which poetry is most capable.”

Prageeta is in Claremont now
Where I went to college,
Three decades ago.
Corresponding from Tokyo to California,
Imogene now 16.

Grief Sequence,
Begins with the epitaph:
 “Not to suppress mourning (suffering) (the stupid notion that time will do away with such a thing) but to change  it, transform it, to shift it from a static stage (stasis,  obstruction, recurrences of the same thing) to a fluid state.
—Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary”
That is the challenge:
 to transform that static stasis into a fluid state.

A diary.
I’m having a hard day, she confesses.
Poems about loss
can be compelling like few other narratives,
Bringing us all into the experience.
For my father.
Sarah Duncan and the others consoled me.
Read Lawrence Ferlinghetti.
I’m waiting. 
Hoping for something better of this world,
She read,
Each poem more personal.
More  her  own.

She writes about losing a friend.
Week/End” …a queer break up cycle poem…
Dedicated to all the lonely queers.
Of wit, mental illness, and credit card failures.

We all read about losing something.
And crying and laughing.
And kissing the sky.
Sara D reminds we can laugh at the absurd.
The credit cards that get denied.
That grief into fluid,
Solid into melting space.
Empty space.
Ebb. Flow. Break. Turn. Let. Go.
Turning our lives into epic narratives.

It is not always so fun.
Prageeta points out that
That our communities are not always there to support us.
There are fake friends and  there are friends.
She writes:
“The only thing I can find to do is mourn my husband like a teenager, downcast, filled with careless intention, crying along a filament of sound in my Converse high-tops, which I believe he, if he could really see me, would love.”

Magical thinking,
“It was so clear when he was alive: we had a jaunted and jumbled happiness. We’d drive away from Missoula with the mountains lost in our rearview mirror. Now I am here by myself. It’s daunting and full of the solitude of these smaller windows”

Solid into infinite,
Matter changing.
Memories remaining:
“…I understand how the poem can land on its nothing, so the cloudless is somewhere in a spirit that’s vanishing…

Empty space accompanies what was once there,
“One foot in front of the other, I have said now to a nobody with me in the laundry room. I spoke out to a nobody that was once him but I don’t believe in the idea that he’d even follow me there.”

Fake friends.
A real hug.
The stuff of relationships.
And a last good day.
“The last night of intimacy, of lucidity—unbeknownst to me— we sat together huddled and I caressed him, cradling his arms, his legs, and his penis. I was sure we had time left for more, but this was the last time he spoke and searched my face and looked at me with a recognition I understood.

It’s how we moved out of consciousness, and I am haunted by those last days before we succumbed to hospice. I remember how stunning he was resting in bed…”
Utterly gripping.

A poem for Dale’s daughter,
A teenager when I knew her,
Who lost her father:
“How hard to carry scores of adults on your back, not look at them as carrions of need, the distress of what loyalty requires. This pain is human, formed from plunges and positions, misjudged from various heights.
How ceremony for you was linked to desire, and not to a lie.

What you had is that writing came from the same plumed pen as your father’s.
for what? for whom? Now you’re growing—writing is skyward, a future tense.”

So many goodbyes.
Closings and openings.
Poems transforming.
Corresponding and remembering.
Careening through the sky.
Flying home from  Tokyo, the
Grief Sequences coming my way.

“I don’t hear you talking to yourself in the hallways late in the evening as  
you used to do.”

“The wine drunk. A tooth soaring. A back splintered. A pain patch.

“Your vices were hidden in a city-mouse, of those white-walled Brooklyn rooms—a serrated-edged life-hole you painted us— from the illustrious youth-fueled glow I pulled from scraps and yards: it was a sonic disappearance. You felt shame…”

I think of my old neighbour,
Walking  inside the building, a firewood and a bottle  or red wine in hand,
Jolly ready for an evening.
But do we ever really know anyone?

As they go through their horrors.

“last night in the deep of sleep you came to me and said that the vigil I hold is enough…”

And then goodbye.

“I look at you—you are alive— and you breathe labored breaths, and then you died. There, in the hospital bed, when I let time lapse not knowing how to hold you. I let you die for seven days. Your daughter, bigger than I am, could hold you. She could use her muscles to grip you, but I couldn’t hold you…”

Can we ever live up to Barthes’ charge:
“Not to suppress mourning …but to change  it, transform it… to a fluid state.”

If anyone  has done so,
Sharma’s narrative offers a possibility.

Throughout the years I knew Dale and Prageeta in the mid-2000s,
I worked in a syringe exchange program in the South Bronx, across from Lincoln Hospital.
Death was everywhere.
Three decades after the Lincoln Hospital takeover, the neighborhood included the highest rates of homeless people coping with HIV and chemical dependency in the city.
We used to circle, play drums and read poetry during our advisory meetings or memorials after one of the program members had passed. Some of these deaths involved HIV, Hepatitis C, overdose or homicide.
On one occasion, a transgender client was thrown out the window of a single-room-occupancy hotel.
The despair was unending.
Yet, group members knew they could make it through the grief when a chuckle or smile crept onto their faces during one of the memorials.
And members knew they had faced the negative, moved through it, and come out the other side. The tenacity of those in the circle made the scene one of the most pulsing spaces I have seen.
In their daily transforming of the negative into a new way of living, we achieved a kind of magical power.

“These are the facts: I lost my husband, composer and artist Dale Edwin Sherrard, on January 14, 2015, after his fight with esophageal cancer,” Prageeta writes.
Looking at that grief and transforming it.

As Prageeta has done with her Grief Cycle.


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