The Witness

For Three Word Wednesday, prompt words compromise, decision, forward. Also submitted, howbeit late (as usual), to the OpenLinkNight over at dVerse

The Witness
She bends forward, low
over etched granite,
her small shoulders making
a sorrowful tremor
in the field of solid stone.
I did not mean to spy
on her private grief,
as her tears mingled
with the morning mist,
but I could not
turn away, I could
not turn away.
Did she beg
for a compromise, a
“Take me instead,”
while full knowing
the final decision
had already been made?
or was she here only
to make late amends
for past regrets? I did
not ask, but like the
stone bore silent witness
to life and death.
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43 thoughts on “The Witness

  1. been there…bearing witness in these moments, questioning what you are seeing and feeling their emotion in the moment as well….really nice capture…for me the win is in your noticing…

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  2. isn't it fascinating how someone who we watch randomly in their grief can touch us so much and make us think and re-think death and life and relationship and emotions ourselves…i know it happened to me..

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  3. Cemetery's are interesting places..even reading names…personal monikers..can seem like an intrusion..i think it is human nature to look..to try and work out the story..but on such special ground perhaps giving due respect and distance is called for..words as strong as stones..jae

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  4. I had to read twice, but I think I am seeing a woman grieving over a grave stone. And the question seems to be: Was it grief for the other, or grief for herself? [Did I get it?]
    I really enjoyed this. (PS — thanx for your comment)

    (PPS – do you know that you have CAPTCH turned on? I had to try 5 times to submit a comment — pain in the arse! I almost gave up on making a comment — suggest you turn it off)

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  5. Claudia, I hoped this poem would tap into a shared experience–I was sure I'm not the only person ever to be moved by someone else's grief. Grief makes a powerful connection between people, I think, even those who do not know each other.

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  6. Jae, thank you. I never want to be an dispassionate observer–seems less than human, to me–but there are times and places where it is unwise to intrude.

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  7. Thanks Sabio, yes, you have a good read on (at least one point) what I was trying to express.

    And thanks ever so much for letting me know about CAPTCH–I thought I turned that damn thing off a long time ago. CAPTCH is like saying, “Hey, friends, let's have a good conversation . . . but first you have to solve this riddle.” I didn't mean to make communication any harder than it already is!

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  8. I guess this is what true empathy is. Some might call it being nosy, curious but, the way you've written it, and from your comment replies, if it is a moment that has stayed so powerful in your memory, it is because you felt so connected to her in empathy, I would think? So hard to want to offer a few kind or sympathetic words and yet, not wish to intrude.
    This is a truly beautiful write and read Nico and, so deeply touching to me for many reasons of having lost those I love.

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  9. I submitted to f/u comments, so seeing a few now and thinking more about your poem as you replied (not sure they followed — as poets usually don't), I thought of a suggestion (as if I, a nonpoet, could make a valid one — but I shall try):

    Reading Kooser's book on suggestions to poets, he says that the title and the first lines of a poem should be an act of kindness to the reader. To let the reader know what it happening.

    So in this case, I would have titled your work something like – “The Grave Mourner”

    When you call it “The Witness” then when your first line starts out “She bends forward …” I am naturally inclined to see “She” as the witness and then I have to work and wait to undue that natural bias — you make me work instead of offering a hand of welcome in the title.

    Further, the poem is not so much about witnessing, but about a comment about the grave, the regret and the mourning — less about you and more about her. So keep the title on her and not you.

    Then, your last line of the “silent witness” becomes powerful. You let the poem tell us about being a witness, and the title an act of kindness.

    Just the reflections of a poet ignoramus. I wonder if Kooser would agree?

    PS — you are welcome about CAPTCHA: good to see it gone! Thanx.

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  10. That is a great suggestion, Sabio. Poetry is an interesting way to communicate, both revealing and concealing, interpreting reality and giving space for interpretation. I am a big fan of how Kooser handles this aspect of poetry.

    All of the poetry I write for this blog are pretty rough drafts, most often churned out in less than an hour, so any suggestions for improvement are welcome. If I ever decide to do anything with this poem (besides let it mold and decay on this blog!) I'll consider a major overhaul, including a title change. Thanks for such careful reading.

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  11. Ah, shucks, you are welcome. Glad it was useful. Like you, I put things up as drafts and love suggestions and criticism from others — even if I disagree at the moment. Criticisms make me feel loved and listened to! 🙂
    Keep the great stuff comin'

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  12. Thanks Bren. It's also hard for those in grief to reach out for comfort. Such a strange barrier–people who need comfort, and those willing to offer it, are held back by feelings of intrusion.

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  13. It is not all sadness visiting a cemetery. Many years ago I was looking around one close to home and there sat woman sat fussing over the blown debris on the grave talking happily to her long dead husband of what was happening in her life, keeping him appraised of family affairs and never letting go of him…but not one tear was shed.

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  14. Grief varies in individual expression. I never allow anyone to see me cry .I was raised to be a brave little soldier and in retrospect it has stood me in good stead.I only express grief when I am alone or writing poetry and then I completely dissolve into a heap. Nicely captured moment Nico.

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  15. Thanks rallentanda. I think it's strange that in my culture expressions of grief are expected to be private, but public outbursts of anger are (to a certain extent) understandable and acceptable. What is it about grief that embarrasses us so–perhaps it is seen as a “weak” emotion, while anger is a “strong” one?

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  16. Nico~
    What a powerful glimpse you share here. The flow of this piece is perfect, carrying the reader out from the graver marker for a fuller view, and then back again in personal observation. And the emotions, both of the woman and observer, are keenly felt.

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  17. And then you have the opposite end of the spectrum, such as Middle Eastern cultures where public grief is often noisy and frantic–tearing clothes, throwing dust, wailing, even self-violence. Biblical proportions, sackcloth and ashes. Interesting how different cultures have evolved different responses to what the universe dishes out. The country women I grew up around would be mortified if anyone saw them in such a condition.

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