To Certain Poets About to Die

Take your fill of intimate remorse, perfumed sorrow,
Over the dead child of a millionaire,
And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank
Which the millionaire might order his secretary to scratch off
And get cashed.

  Very well,
You for your grief and I for mine.
Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.

I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky.
His job is sweeping blood off the floor.
He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works
And it’s many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom day by day.

Now his three year old daughter
Is in a white coffin that cost him a week’s wages.
Every Saturday night he will pay the undertaker fifty cents till the debt is wiped out.

The hunky and his wife and the kids
Cry over the pinched face almost at peace in the white box.

They remember it was scrawny and ran up high doctor bills.
They are glad it is gone for the rest of the family now will have more to eat and wear.

Yet before the majesty of Death they cry around the coffin
And wipe their eyes with red bandanas and sob when the priest says, “God have mercy on us all.”

I have a right to feel my throat choke about this.
You take your grief and I mine—see?
To-morrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back to his job sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar seventy cents a day.
All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood ahead of him with a broom.

This poem is in the public domain.

How great my grief, my joys how few, 
Since first it was my fate to know thee! 
- Have the slow years not brought to view 
How great my grief, my joys how few, 
Nor memory shaped old times anew, 
    Nor loving-kindness helped to show thee 
How great my grief, my joys how few, 
    Since first it was my fate to know thee?

This poem is in the public domain.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes – 
I wonder if It weighs like Mine – 
Or has an Easier size.

I wonder if They bore it long – 
Or did it just begin – 
I could not tell the Date of Mine – 
It feels so old a pain – 

I wonder if it hurts to live – 
And if They have to try – 
And whether – could They choose between – 
It would not be – to die – 

I note that Some – gone patient long – 
At length, renew their smile –  
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil – 

I wonder if when Years have piled –  
Some Thousands – on the Harm –  
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –  

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve – 
Enlightened to a larger Pain –  
In Contrast with the Love –  

The Grieved – are many – I am told –  
There is the various Cause –  
Death – is but one – and comes but once –  
And only nails the eyes –  

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –  
A sort they call "Despair" –  
There's Banishment from native Eyes – 
In sight of Native Air –  

And though I may not guess the kind –  
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –  

To note the fashions – of the Cross –  
And how they're mostly worn –  
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own – 

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

When someone dies, the clothes are so sad. They have outlived
their usefulness and cannot get warm and full.
You talk to the clothes and explain that he is not coming back

as when he showed up immaculately dressed in slacks and plaid jacket
and had that beautiful smile on and you’d talk.
You’d go to get something and come back and he’d be gone.

You explain death to the clothes like that dream.
You tell them how much you miss the spouse
and how much you miss the pet with its little winter sweater.

You tell the worn raincoat that if you talk about it,
you will finally let grief out. The ancients etched the words
for battle and victory onto their shields and then they went out

and fought to the last breath. Words have that kind of power
you remind the clothes that remain in the drawer, arms stubbornly
folded across the chest, or slung across the backs of chairs,

or hanging inside the dark closet. Do with us what you will,
they faintly sigh, as you close the door on them.
He is gone and no one can tell us where.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily Fragos. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on July 21, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

I took the last
dusty piece of china
out of the barrel.
It was your gravy boat,
with a hard, brown
drop of gravy still
on the porcelain lip.
I grieved for you then
as I never had before.

From The Sorrow Psalms: A Book of Twentieth-Century Elegy edited by Lynn Strongin. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.