Elegy: Poems

Nothing has inspired so much bad poetry as loss. The ineffability of grief, after all, is part of what makes it so awful. The bereft are cruelly left a voice full of recycled sentiments which can only belittle a beloved. But the opposite proves true for Mary Jo Bang’s beautiful Elegy, as she chronicles the death of her son with truly stereophonic horror. Here is the insomnia, the spooky dejavu, the pharmacology, the amnesia, the nightmares and the white noise of loss. Bang pours it all into a lyric poetic line that is blunted down, burnished as obsidian.

You left nothing
Left to say and yet there is this
Incomplete labyrinth

Of finished thought, this
Wash of days over energy?s uneven rock. This
Vault door?s hollow closing

Crash behind which I say, Stop,
To the accidental.
Uncle, to the twisty wrist.

No matter how she beseeches, Bang cannot get her wish, and bitter lament follows. “The role of elegy is/to put a death mask on tragedy…To look for an imagined/Consolidation of grief/So we can all be finished/Once and for all and genuinely shut up.” But loss lets loose a syntactical virus; a supercharged ontological magnet. It warps our sense of time, cruelly fooling. “He lived in her mind/As a limited aspect where time kept circling.” And so it is perhaps no solace — but worth saying, anyway — that the much-loved son has become immortal in these essential, powerful poems.