One for Sorrow

A poem I wrote when my grandmother passed away. It was the first time I'd experienced the death of someone close to me, and to me it felt like a bizarre, painful coming-of-age experience - part of me managed to grow up and accept what had happened, and another part remained young and superficial, not letting the reality of it all sink in.


1. One for Sorrow

I suspect what they say

about magpies –

that one means sorrow

two means joy

- may not be true


Liar, liar, pants on fire


Nor are they any

any of those old nursery rhymes


There was once an old woman

who swallowed a fly


Because now I'm grown up

old enough to know that in real life –

the thing they call "the real world"

- old women don't swallow flies.

But there was this

old woman

who caught a bug


Perhaps she'll die


And so the clock ticked down


1, 2, 3-4-5

once I caught a fish alive

5, 4, 3-2-1


And so the clock ticked down.

And the children

and the children's children


the so many children

that the old woman

(who lived in a shoe)

didn't know what to do with


they grew hot and cold

and they drew together –

tight, like a bundled knot of thread

- and then pulled back

taut, strained, split, frayed

when it got too much

and they wanted to be



like the one little one left in the bed


They rolled over and over

and couldn't stop

as still the clock ticked down


5, 4, 3-2-1


There are no nursery rhymes for this feeling


as atish-oo, atish-oo

they all fall


Because I knew an old woman

who caught a bug.


Perhaps she'll die


And she did.

So I suspect what they say

about magpies

may not be true.

For I'm certain I saw

two black and white birds


up above...

And there is no abundance of joy to be found here.

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