zaccheus jackson nyce (on grief part 4)

so i’m sitting in this writing workshop, right? and there’s this facilitator. a firecracker of a poet with these broad shoulders— noticeable, even with the baggy leather jacket he’s wearing. and these iron-black eyes that’ve seen some shit. i mean you could just tell.

he stops in the middle of his presentation, and he walks up to me, right? stone-faced, with a flipchart marker in his hand like a cuban cigar, he looks me dead in the eyes and asks, “what does grief feel like?”

i froze. and freezing is a poet’s worse fear. i had rehearsed this. there were to be no pauses. no pauses ever. i’ve moulded my words into a weapon i still swear by to this day (which is a story for another time), but i was betrayed that day.

i could not answer. and my mind raced, the way it does when it’s caught of guard. and it didn’t help that he never took his iron-black eyes off of mine, and that i was in a room full of writers, suddenly eager to hear my answer and, i imagine, to take that story for themselves. i mean, that’s what writers do.

and in the space of a half breath hesitation i thought about it.

okay. grief.

what else could grief be than the tired exhale of this multiverse we call ‘now’— filled with good young people dying young, and still birth, and structures we’ve been taught to drain our faith in?

or, or,

what else could grief be than my baby cousin Scarlett Amelia who had passed away a year and a half ago, at the time—

that. that was by far the freshest pain and form of grief to ever kiss my heart gingerly. it was still there. the memories. of hospital rooms, of my tita lynn’s swollen belly where, for 9 months, we were promised a life. her face, an exhausted map. where a careful finger could trace the canals of her tears into patchwork constellation.

i wonder. i wonder if grief is the lake that my kuya daga drowned in. i wonder if grief feels like the fingers of everyone who’d ever held the soft cosmos of his hands.

i mean, what else could grief possibly be than a phoenix noosed to a life of rising from it’s own death? or the soft flickering of a mother’s eyelashes, batting away the tears from 5 years of loss?

i’ve witnessed that battle more times than i care to count and i wonder.

if grief feels like the distance that grew between my living room couch and my mother as she bolted up and walked away, face buried alive in her hands, after i asked her about nanay.

what else could grief possibly feel like than the fabric of Trayvon’s hoodie against the reality of his black skin?

or the subway seat against the small of Sammi Yatin’s back?

or the basketball in Jomar Lanot’s hands?

or the skytrain floor beneath Charle Dalde’s feet?

i think there’s grief in knowing grief can change, right? like, i used to think grief meant crying. but now i grieve every 12 year old boy who’s been taught not to cry.

i grieve the contours of diaspora, and the trauma of wondering.

i grieve the person i wanted to be when i was 10.

i grieve the man that i am, which i fought so tirelessly to avoid.

i grieve every relationship i’ve guillotined because i was the toxic one.

i grieve my future children.

i grieve the way my people used to do things, before the cross.

i grieve rhizome, and heartwood, and main street.

i grieve the earth before 1491.

i grieve every time we need to imagine otherwise.

i grieve the world that my little cousins have the responsibility to grow up in.

i grieve the life that my father chose to turn away from. silent as the night.

i grieve the land that i live on.

i grieve the land that i live on.

i grieve the land that i live on.

and so i’ve grieved the past. i’ve grieved the now. and i’ve grieved what’s to come.

and so i grieve the realization that grief is ongoing.

that there are no answers for this.

no syntax trees to take root with. no data sets to parse this noise out. no math.

no math at all.

* * *

but he was still waiting for an answer, right?

and so this is what i said.

i think grief feels like the grass beneath my feet during long walks of reflection at night.

i thought about the moon as i said these words. trees. and a dark path that i fear to speak of.

he smiled a knowing smile, as if he were expecting the answer. he nodded, and carried on with his workshop in the same breath; his mountainous shoulders carving a canyon of wonder behind him.

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