often a sweetness comes

January 6, 2008


for my mother

Just when it has seemed I couldn’t bear
one more friend
waking with a tumor, one more maniac

with a perfect reason, often a sweetness
has come
and changed nothing in the world

except the way I stumbled through it,
for a while lost
in the ignorance of loving

someone or something, the world shrunk
to mouth-size,
hand-size, and never seeming small.

I acknowledge there is no sweetness
that doesn’t leave a stain,
no sweetness that’s ever sufficiently sweet. …

Tonight a friend called to say his lover
was killed in a car
he was driving. His voice was low

and guttural, he repeated what he needed
to repeat, and I repeated
the one or two words we have for such grief

until we were speaking only in tones.
Often a sweetness comes
as if on loan, stays just long enough

to make sense of what it means to be alive,
then returns to its dark
source. As for me, I don’t care

where it’s been, or what bitter road
it’s traveled
to come so far, to taste so good.

(Stephen Dunn)

I’ve been rereading this poem frequently lately. I don’t know at what age thoughts of mortality hit the average person, but I feel like it’s usually adolescence or old age, but for some reason this year my mortality, and my loved ones’ mortality has been dwelt on and faced with fear, which is something I’d like to get past, because worry makes me grind my teeth at night and keeps good dreams suspended. In the midst of four joyful weddings and announcements of pregnancies and newborn babies this past month, news of funerals, some “expected” and some not, news of life-threatening illnesses, happened too. They are on the fringe of my concerns, simply because I’m not very close with those involved in the sad events. I’m definitely not the first person to ponder on the life cycle and never the last, but…I don’t know what I’m saying. I just wonder at how little of death and sorrow I have experienced, so I’m hoping I’ll be prepared, as prepared as you can be to be run over with grief.

I’ve been to countless weddings growing up, and was invited to 12 (attended 10) this past year alone. The number of funerals I’ve attended in my whole life, I can count on one hand.

It is hard to reconcile my experience with, say, my Sudanese brother Mike’s experience, and the most I can do is hold onto the mystery of God. I demand answers so often.

To avoid being a complete downer for the new year, I do want to point out how I like the gratitude Dunn expresses…experiencing the unexpected sweetness of what it means to be alive, in the darkest hours. As if on loan. I will hope for that gift for the thousands of unknown days to come.


2 Responses to “often a sweetness comes”

  1. samtorode said

    *guess who (Bethany)*

    I think it’s something about 24. I started having all these thoughts at 24. (or maybe I started getting depressed after 24 years of midwest winters… but no, listen to Jon Foreman’s “24” song – and he’s from California.)

    You posted this on Epiphany, hmm. Day of gifts.

    You are a super good writer. Prose writer too, honey bun. I was an actress pretending to be a writer (all my articles were starring MOI!). You are the genuine article. no pun intended. how can we get thee published?

    love you. way lots.

  2. cjpb said

    thank you, sis :)

    that’s interesting…Arthur said he felt the same way at 24, too.

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