Poetry, Suffering, and (maybe) Surprise Endings

When Kelly told us we could invite a guest writer for the July Muse, I thought of my friend Lisa Colón Delay. Writer, artist, and teacher; impromptu humorist, spiritual formation provocateur, and mother of a special needs child, Lisa blogs about inspiration and imagination at her website, Spark My Muse, where she also features podcast interviews with interesting folks. Lisa is also the author, most recently, of Rex the Boy King, a delightful children’s book in the tradition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince. Some years back, Lisa and I collaborated on Dog in the Gap, a series of essays on the theological and devotional aspects of canine companionship. I am so glad for All Nine’s readers to have the opportunity to meet her!

~ Doug Jackson


Poetry, Suffering, and (maybe) Surprise Endings

Lisa DelayBy Lisa Colón Delay

“Poetry is a little incarnation,” said C.S. Lewis and I must agree. I don’t know what incarnates the sense of suffering and grief better than poetry.

Perhaps because this is the territory of the ineffable? Human suffering, as it is experienced, stays at the outer edge of our vocabulary and discourse. We know it is the place where the feeling mind is awash in mood, pictures, and inexactness. Language stays ham-fisted and definitions keep always just a bit out of reach.

Poetry skirts the issue and runs it through also. Plus, it can bridge wounded souls to each other and give name to pain–not with a label, but with a canvas where we finger-paint our way out of nighttime.

Grief comes as a more sharpened sense of suffering, say, compared with the suffering of illness or disappointment. First, grief comes the way a large throaty animal’s roaring concusses the ears and shakes the ground so that even the space where sound isn’t is almost unbearable too. The pain of loss feels like a full breach. We presume a continuum of stability, but ruptures and washes out from the bottom.

Homeostasis feels natural just as it is breaking underfoot in an avulsion, but is actually so rarely apprehended directly that you must go back and refer to the definition to make sure you didn’t get it wrong. Grief is the acute awareness of unwanted and appalling change.

In grief, we are aware of being insecure in all mortal things. It comes on the blindside unannounced even if we’ve been bracing for it. Grief works in the chest like the pulling apart of a length of rope. Uncoiling cords, meant to stay together, split beyond any full repair– causing (somehow) a fountain of blood. Separation is hell, after all.

In My Distress

Sorrow, sorrow, has no where to go
Hot as sweat
Ubiquitous as breath
Tight and swollen
Like a face
After a wallop.

Sorrow, sorrow, in and through. 
Before and after, all one–
Blinding, deafening, 
and minus. Always that.

Sorrow, sorrow, siphoning and shrinking the outside Convex turning concave
Toward a yawning vacuity
Of a tangled locus in the soul’s crux
Clinging to everything
Leaving nothing safe.

Aloneness (real or imagined) is the nadir of the whole thing.
And from poetry (Psalm 22) comes suffering’s preeminent entreaty:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

Is this not the cry of every suffering heart from the secluded cell of one’s suffering?

The very heart of incarnated God given voice. In that moment, identifying and experiencing the brutality, not just of betrayal and death by torture, but of enduring suffering in its terror and torment all by one’s lonesome. It is exactly this: true ruin is finding yourself thoroughly alone while sensing it fully. This is how God dies as surrogate.

And then, a surprise ending we (maybe) saw coming all along…
Redemption is near, of course. Death swallowed by Life.
We do know the story. We do know it is our human story and it is our individual story, each time.

And better still, we have a model encapsulated. We have a Way to find the dawn:
In our troubles, only empathy, whether poetic or prosaic, can bind the wounds or raise the dead.


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