“Our most basic imperative…”

Photograph by Debmalya Roy Choudhuri

After Our Daughter’s Wedding
by Ellen Bass

While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli’s pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
“Do you feel like you’ve given her away?” you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn’t
drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn’t crushed
under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn’t found
lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It’s animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed
in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there’s never been a moment
we could count on it.

Two weeks ago, a dear friend’s young son picked up the family dog from doggie day care and wrecked his car not five minutes from home. In an instant, the most prosaic of errands ended in tragedy, on a beautiful summer morning, on a country road he’d known almost all his life.

We’ve kept watch over and grieved with our friend, as she tries to cope with this unimaginable loss, every parent’s absolutely worst nightmare. We expect to lose our parents at some point, our spouse, family and friends as they age with us or experience ill heath; but this kind of loss is impossible to comprehend, impossible to imagine a “recovery” from.

And yet, from the moment we give birth, this is the thought that shadows us, that immediately comes to mind when the phone rings unexpectedly at any point in any day. Hence, the last four lines of this poem (one I’d read years ago and saved in my poetry files) came to mind in the aftermath of Dan’s death…and have stayed in the forefront ever since.

Our daughters drove up from their homes in Brooklyn at the end of that dreadful week for a short stay here at the farm. In the midst of all the mourning, I felt blessed to hold them closer, to enjoy their company more.

4 thoughts on ““Our most basic imperative…”

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