Arc of Grief

Shaped in the crucible of grief, and “the crux of pain,” Phyllis Stowell’s piercingly honest poems trace the arc of suffering that shapes widowhood.  their dramatic reflections on the need simultaneously to “keep him near” yet become “not the other of him” will speak to all who have felt split in two by the loss of a deeply loved partner or spouse even while their courageous confrontations of desolation and isolation will strengthen anyone who shrinks from the need to mourn.

— Sandra M. Gilbert


Profound grieving, as anyone who has experienced it knows, is not a systematic undertaking, but a series of unpredictable mood-states, the darkest extreme altering over time, but never entirely vanishing.  A poetics of process could be put to no better use than to chart these wave-like recurrences.  In this beautiful longer work, Phyllis Stowell remains an experimental poet, but achieves a new and heartbreaking simplicity.

— Alan Williamson

How rapidly the light

How rapidly the light moves across the north wall.
It was the shadow of a hand across your face.

I see your face before me, living
And your dead face
Each effacing the other.

The fire burns low, chill has departed from the house.
I do not know if I am in the house of life
Or the house of death.

All day it seemed I chose to live

All day it seemed I chose to live.
It’s nearing sundown. The sands lie still.
I wait. You don’t speak to me. I wait.
No figure not you comes.

You’re not the sound of surf
Not the pecking feeding troupe of quail.
You’re not nature – such a fantasy!
Such a false comfort!
Matter made merely matter?

Fog burned off exposing beauty.
Beauty isn’t cruel, no more than the couple
Embracing on the sand at the scum edge
Of the outgoing tide.

Of the Seasons of Widowhood

Of the seasons of widowhood, my first autumn.
Sun has risen in the south where death resides.
Steam pulls away from the frame.
Gone the iron gray yesterday, the night of storm.

Because of you I will never again be
unaware of the world.
Like a mother you brought me into the world
Like a father you showed me Polestar
And a field of yellow iris
And mixed yourself with the mysterious
Companion in my dreams.

Oh Love, stay near me now. Hold me, keep me safe.
Who will guard my house against barbarians?
Who will comfort me in my nighttime despair?
Who will come to me with bags of exotic foods?
Who will catch hold of me in the hall, press me close
Body to body in bliss?

August. But a year. . .

August. But a year. . .
Were he to come, now
A specter, breathing
Worldly, or otherworldly –
Ah, no.

Others may long for that
Fiery embodiment,
For me one soul has such magnitude
My own would be put out.

The container smashed that held my life
I spilled out, floundered.
Now I must assert myself against myself
My arc of grief, in this remaindered time
To be not solely his.

By his absence may he give me strength
As once he gave me love.
Let me now by who I become
Become part of that continuum
Of which he is a part.