Gabriel: A Poem

By Edward Hirsch

Perhaps I should add a tag for “mourning” here? I feel like I readreadread as much escapist nonsense as I can take in, but then suddenly get jerked to a stop by some book that looks like it might address my reality in an important or useful way. I saw this headline from NPR on my facebook feed: “A Poet On Losing His Son: ‘Before You Heal, You Have To Mourn’”, and I thought, that sounds promising; I don’t feel like I’m healing much at all yet – maybe I just need to mourn some more.

I’m actually not that big on poetry, either; I have great respect but little understanding for it. The following excerpts caught ahold of me, though:

Some nights I could not tell
If he was the wrecking ball
Or the building it crashed into


Like a spear hurtling through darkness
He was always in such a hurry
To find a target to stop him

Turns out this…was not an easy read. It has taken me two months to get through 78 pages of short lines of poems (and an additional month to post about it). I’ve been reading other books, too, of course, because I couldn’t bear to take this one on my commute with me. So, I read a few pages at home until I needed to stop and then I waited until the next day.

I truly don’t really get poetry. Even reading this, I don’t understand how Hirsch has managed to capture so much of what I’ve been going through more accurately in like 15 words than the various prose books have in pages and pages of text.

Hirsch dedicates the majority of the poem to describing Gabriel and their history together. And there were so many similarities: Gabriel was adopted like Thomas, was raised in an upper middle-class and highly academic family, and had serious teenage rebellion that included drug use and short stints of homelessness.

Toward the end of the poem, Hirsch describes his own mourning, and there were even more similarities: the desperate practicalities that have to be done even though you are barely holding yourself together, the agonizing over what you were doing the exact moment your loved one died, what you were doing just before that when you could maybe have done something to prevent it instead.

Yeah, this was a tough read, but a lot of the lines continue to echo in my head, and I know that I will read it again in a year or two, as well, when hopefully things are a little better.


2 comments on “Gabriel: A Poem

  1. Ben says:

    I’m so glad this is helping with your mourning. I feel like poetry is like music: it speaks to you, or it doesn’t. And if it doesn’t, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad poetry, just that you aren’t the audience. But when you *are* the audience, then it can pierce your heart. With that kind of power, you surely want to take it a small dose at a time. Lots of love.

    • Anna says:

      Thanks, Dad! I’ve been thinking that “healing” might be a bit of a misnomer, too; like we think of healing as like with a cut or a broken bone, where maybe there’s some scaring but it is mostly good as new after the healing is done, whereas I think this is probably more like an amputation. You are never going to get the limb back again, but you’ll sort of figure out how to compensate.

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