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Two Deep Breaths: Like This, For a Reason

Posted by Caitlin Dwyer Young

Geffrey Davis begins his poem “Like This, For a Reason” with a question: how do we show kindness when we’re hurting? How can we be gentle with our deep, old wounds? He wonders,

 

How to find the tender underbelly

of grief, to turn it down

 

onto its side, so you can hold it,

kiss it and rename it…

 

All of us have grief inside right now. In this COVID-19 pandemic, everyone has suffered some loss: a loved one sick or gone, a missed opportunity, a job lost or income reduced, friends isolated and distant. It’s been a hard time, with a lot of sadness.

 

What I love about Davis’ poem is that he asks us to be tender with ourselves. The poem centers on the speaker’s mother, and the core of the poem reveals memories of her, cooking in the kitchen, transforming meager ingredients into something delicious for her kids. She teaches them an important lesson: we feel pain / large like this for a reason. In the mother’s voice, loss becomes a teaching, an appreciation of the human capacity to feel deeply.

 

The mother’s injury is physical: her eye has been damaged in an act of domestic violence. But Davis approaches this injury with such tenderness, describing the beauty of his mother’s fading eyesight as shallow green water in Puget Sound, calm blue cornflowers, and yellow piano keys. Instead of feeling the expected rage or grief at the end of the poem, we feel instead a kind of wonder. Davis has found the “tender underbelly” of tragedy and held it close. He doesn’t deny the hurt or harm, but loves it until it transforms.

 

Reading this poem from Davis’ debut collection, Revising the Storm, I wonder how we all can “kiss and rename” our grief in this season. How can we too show kindness to ourselves and to our losses. How we can hold each other in tenderness. In that spirit, enjoy “Like This, For a Reason.”

 

Like This, For a Reason

 

How to find the tender underbelly

of grief, to turn it down

 

onto its side, so you can hold it,

kiss it and rename it:

 

my mother taught this. The lost dog

became patience. And finding it

 

dead along the road meant go ahead and cry now.

But then, with her fingers spread

 

against our sobbing chests, we feel pain

large like this for a reason.

 

Each month, the money thinned

and she stood alone in the kitchen

 

humming the last bit of our food

into songs of tomorrow…

 

Even her cataracted eye, the one

my father punched years ago,

 

setting the unhurried cloud into motion,

we’ve since claimed as victory.

 

Though, before the surgery,

she never mentioned an absence of color —

 

the hues fading slowly enough

to manage the heart’s break. Everything’s so soft,

 

she’d say, and meant it: the sharp dive of green

growing shallower in the Sound,

 

cornflower blue calming itself

shade by shade,

 

the keys of yellow muted to a familiar

flatness she called spring.

 

Geffrey Davis is the author of two full-length collections: Night Angler (BOA Editions, 2019), winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, and Revising the Storm ​(BOA Editions, 2014), winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. He also co-wrote the chapbook Begotten (URB Books, 2016) with LA-based poet and friend F. Douglas Brown. His poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, New England Review, ​​The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, PBS NewsHour, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Originally raised by the Pacific Northwest, Davis lives with his family in the Ozarks on the traditional lands of the Osage, Caddo, and Quapaw people.