When feeling no longer evades

Despite everything I knew and felt, two of my dearest friends died gasping for air. Another couldn’t stop her pain with morphine, so she disconnected her feeding tube. Still another has the same kind of cancer, and after a heartening remission it’s back with a vengeance. Two other friends are sitting with the niece and nephew, who have just had to pull the plug on their mother’s life support. All of them are sitting there at the mother’s bedside as I write, enduring the umpteenth day of death. It’s not a snap. My mother-in-law, while visiting us at our summer home last September, fell down the stairs at 2:00 am, alone, and died — she lay where we found her, five hours later, at the bottom of the stairs, in her moon-and-star pajamas. The idea of death is always a simile — old as the hills. It can’t hurt me. But the images have to be borne, and they are unbearable. In them, knowing and feeling fight for my soul, as if one or the other could win it. The evidences are as recalcitrant as they are unignorable. I suffer them as I will never suffer my own dying. In them, I feel the legacy of what befalls us — the Latin cadere, “to fall,” gives us all that “is the case” — casualty and cadaver too — and even grammatical case, as I was recently amazed to discover, comes not from the word meaning box but from the past participle of cadere, making nouns more fundamentally moving than we like to imagine.
…When feeling no longer evades, and thinking no longer avails, the two become woven together. You feel knowing can’t save you; you know feeling can’t save you. Their famous battles fall away, and in a flash or stretch, depending how things go with you, you do a lot at once: holding back while you hold forth, bearing down while you bear up.

–Heather McHugh, “Poise and Suspense,” from Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play, edited by Daniel Tobin & Pimone Triplett

5 responses to “When feeling no longer evades”

  1. Marie– I was reading that thinking it was your Mother-in Law that fell down the stairs–

    Wishing you and the boys well–has #3 arrived yet???

  2. Do you have the book, Marie? I want to know more about it. Daniel and Pimone make up a dynamic editing team. It couldn’t be more perfect for me to read your pc. by Heather McHugh today. She “kills” it, as they say, doesn’t she? Especially this: “You feel knowing can’t save you; you know feeling can’t save you.” What an amazing, yet simple concept. Thank you so much for posting!

  3. G — no, #3 due on April 30 — soon!

    Ms. L — yes, I have it. I’m rereading select essays, but I can lend it to you if you like. Here, this line is the one that particularly hits me: “But the images have to be borne, and they are unbearable.”

  4. Yes, Ms Marie, I’d love it. The line you quoted is a particularly poignant line. What an odd subject it seems to me to come out of the title of this book. How does it relate to her essay?

    Not apropos to the subject at hand, ( ! ), I can’t wait to see you and your “waddlesque!” on Thursday.

  5. Elizabeth Lara

    Heather McHugh is one of my favorite poets, and I think part of the poignancy of this piece is the richness of her language – how she captures the enduring pain of those who survive the loss of a loved one.

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