As part of the Poetry Coalition’s programming, the Academy of American Poets asked five renowned poets to reflect on poems that helped them better understand or process grief. 

The seventh annual programming initiative’s theme “and so much lost      you’d think / beauty had left a lesson: Poetry & Grief,” is from the poem “once the magnolia has blossomed” by Ed Roberson

In the first installment, poet Janice Lobo Sapigao speaks of loss and reflects on “Greensickness” by Laurel Chen. 

Greensickness” by Laurel Chen, inspired by Gwendolyn Brooks’s “To The Young Who Want to Die,” reminds me of the too many days where grief is disorderly and breathing. Grief, in this poem, consumes everything, and it names how hope, time, and return can break. Hope becomes offerings. Time becomes seasons. Return becomes irreversible, so it backtracks and transforms into a landscape, or a greenscape. I am too familiar with how both gradual and sudden loss changes our whole worlds, our whole beings. 

Grief is a mountainous loss. In the past couple of years, I have lost my mother, whose incalculable space in my life shows up unexpectedly. I have lost my whole family and the family house where we all lived, where I grew up, which means that I have lost everything I lived to keep in a previous life. I know how grief expands, how it can pry former lives from our hands. I don’t always think there is a bright side to anguish, yet I believe that we learn what grows in the shadows, and what we can be brave enough to become in the afterlife of mourning. 

Chen writes, “If grief is love with nowhere to go, then / Oh, I’ve loved so immensely,” which is a line that has stayed with me since I first read it. This reminds me that grief is held and placed; that the grievers are part of the source. The departure in our bodies shifts us anew. We become fresh and green in our sorrow and cosmic heartache. What I don’t know about grief is how it ends. For better or worse, all the grief poems I read and write are foremost for me. This poem reminds me to feel everything grief brings along with it, to understand how it travels.