Jenny Qi's poem first caught my attention because I carry two lines from Bob Hass: All the new thinking is about loss / In this it resembles all the old thinking. Death is the great equalizer, each of us must confront mortality. We glimpse insight into the universal through such magic specificity as bleeding bug bites and cutting remarks, such burdens and gifts as quarters and oranges. Qi's offers these beautiful-brutal details that invite us, not only into her world, but to envision our own.
As a pastor, I stand before graves and I always address the children. They meet my gaze across the deep dark hole, often surprised to be identified, but yes I am talking to you there in your pigtails or your clip-on tie—you swinging your legs on the metal folding chair. Please tell me what you called this person who has just died. While I have never heard a “Queen Elizabeth,” I have gotten Hazie, Homer, at least three Bubbas, and one Miss Tootsie. Now that we are talking, I want you to know that a cemetery is called that name because it is a place for memories. Cemetery, memory . . . Do you hear how the two words are similar? I invite you to take a couple of moments and think about this person that you called by this name. You can close your eyes or leave them open, whatever feels best. This is your time. Please remember this person and why she or he was special to you.
Qi tells us that speaking of death, much less finding a peace which passeth all understanding, is a long process that does not follow anyone else's script. We must not blunt whatever true feelings accompany loss, even excruciating ones that wash over Qi's reader leaving him drenched at the end of her poem. And I would never presume to know what Jenny Qi was like as a child. But I would hope those boys and girls, as well as the children at heart who are overhearing, there at the graveside would become poets, speaking the truth in their beautiful-brutal ways. Dr. Charon describes such poetry as narrative medicine—a means by which we can help one another endure the harsh glare of mortality.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is a writer whose most recent book is a novel titled Earning Innocence in homage to a line from Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Taylor-Troutman holds Masters Degrees from Union Presbyterian Seminary and the University of Virginia Charlottesville, and also serves as pastor of New Dublin Presbyterian Church, a congregation founded in 1769 in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.
© 2017 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine