Losses / A poem for George Floyd
Updated: Jun 13, 2020
I sat on our swing outside, the day before yesterday, reflecting for a few moments after the failed hatch of an anticipated chick that died moments before it should have emerged from the shell, and this small loss struck a deeper chord with a host of other things happening in my personal universe and the world around me.
It's a little bit like the feeling of having a miscarriage, where something that was supposed to happen, didn't.
And it's a little, tiny bit like the overwhelming feeling we might have as a nation in the wake of George Floyd's death.
I don't consider myself qualified to make a political statement, and while yes, that is needed, that's not my area of expertise nor my intention with this post. What I do want to do is share my experience as a human being, a mother, and a fellow American grieved by what I see happening to my fellow human beings and fellow Americans. I'm not equating anything I have experienced to the ages-old, marrow-deep pain of systemic travesties. I want to say that I see this hurt happening, and I'm sorry for it, and I want to understand and empathize as much as I can, and I want it to change.
When experiencing a miscarriage, there is an unresolved grief that one bears instead of bearing that child, and for me, it's hard to express in ordinary words, and part of the grieving and healing process each of the three times this has happened to me, is to write something down in the form of a poem. It helps to be able to crystallize wordless pain into something you can put into your pocket.
I felt this same grieving need to write about George Floyd after I learned of his death. Until I did, that wordless sorrow was weighing on my heart like a rock.
I thought of Abraham Lincoln's hopeful, generative, forward-looking wording in the Gettysburg address. "That this nation... conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal... would have a new birth of freedom."
I thought of the equally maternal language in Emma Lazarus's poem "The New Colossus", inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, which is also in her poem referred to as "the Mother of Exiles."
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me"
I thought of this poignant George Floyd op-ed, written from the perspective of a black mother in present day America.
I thought of my own little ones that I couldn't save, the helplessness and the weight of that very real grief, and the sting of careless comments trivializing those brief and unfulfilled lives, the balm of acknowledgement, and the certain internal conviction that babies who die are still loved and still intrinsically valuable even if unremembered and unseen by anyone else. MTHFR, which is a minor genetic mutation I have, can code for repeat pregnancy loss among other things, and there is always a helpless, bite-your-lip feeling that in some way, unintentionally, you yourself may have become your baby's worst enemy. So there is that grief. But more so, the simple fact of loss. The loss of that baby's life. Especially so when unremembered by the world at large around you.
In my writing, I wanted to portray the Statue of Liberty as the symbolic mother that George Floyd invoked in his futile cry to be seen and heard, and to show her brokenness as her own body metaphorically rejects the very children for whom she hoped.
I may only be one person, but I want to say that someone sees and acknowledges and grieves this injustice. My hope is that my poem does that in some small way.
by Elizabeth Aroh
Starry eyed, I looked for the tempest-tost
and saw your eyes staring back at me
"It's just a pregnancy test", they said, and laughed
But I saw you from the very first day,
saw your dimpled hands and chubby baby arms,
saw you running around the kitchen table
heard you saying "Mama!" for the first time
saw you one day standing tall with a lantern in your hand like me
welcoming others lost at sea
Oh, and sure there were days
where I was bent double,
heaving with the nausea that felt like civil war inside,
And there were swollen sleepless nights of unrest
Times I thought I might lose you for good
'til I felt that reassuring kick and breathed again,
And there were long days, tired days,
where I was working to make sure your future would be bright and safe
But I could see you growing
could see your life unfolding
And you were so worth it
And we were so close,
making a birth plan, packing those hospital bags
that first moment in my bedroom when I felt the pang
of his knee on your neck, I held my side and gripped a chair
and knew something was wrong
I heard your first "I can't breathe"
and it seemed I was the only one in the world
who heard your cry for help
and "I'm coming!" I tried to call, but couldn't
From a thousand miles away, I heard your wrenching "Mama!"
But I was helpless, head bowed, hands tied,
my own body failing you,
failing to protect it's own
While I could only watch through tears
And oh, I hated that I was sick inside,
and made sicker by living through each moment of the anguish of aborted hope
'til cradling you at last, too late, limp, lifeless, precious, gone,
something crumpled up inside
So here I stand at the harbor, lifeless metal
grieving for my longed-for children and their long-awaited freedom's birth,
Yearning for my baby boy,
Wishing he still lived to call me "Mama."