Terri Kirby Erickson
Lewisville, North Carolina, United States
Poet’s statement: When my brother was killed in a tragic accident before his 21st birthday, the anguish I felt was unbearable. Watching my parents, particularly my mother, mourn the loss of their only son was almost worse. In retrospect, it seems that the emotional agony of losing a child must be comparable to the physical pain of labor—that what my mother experienced was a kind of childbirth in reverse, meant to usher her child out of the world the same way she brought him into it. And she had to do it, alone. “After the Funeral” was written to honor my mother’s grief, and for all parents who survive their children.
|After the funeral
Mourners came and went all day,
tossing casseroles and apple pies
into the greedy maw of grief, though
it was never satisfied. Their faces,
bleached by sorrow, belonged to people
we loved, neighbors we knew and even
strangers—friends of friends who came
to pay their respects. But my mother
wanted no part of it. She was locked
in the bedroom, laboring hard. It is
work giving birth when you are middle-
aged, to the same boy you brought home
twenty years before. But it is necessary.
Otherwise, how will you believe it? They
say you had a son, but you can’t find him.
His clothes are in the closet; his shoes
on the stairs. There are pictures of him
everywhere, but the boy, himself, is gone.
So she is busy, pushing her child into
the world, watching him walk, then run,
then vanish as if he were never born.
Yet, he was. The pain proves it.
Photography by Lennon Day-Reynolds
TERRI KIRBY ERICKSON is the author of three collections of poetry, including her latest book, In the Palms of Angels, which recently won an international 2012 Nautilus Silver Award for poetry that “engenders compassion, wisdom, greater understanding, empathy, or passion through the artful use of language,” and the Gold Medal for Poetry in the 2012 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Her award-winning work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including JAMA, American Life in Poetry, 2013 Poet’s Market, The Christian Science Monitor, North Carolina Literary Review, storySouth and many others. For more information about her poetry, please visit her website at http://terrikirbyerickson.wordpress.com.