THE NEEDS OF THE MANY
by Brendan Constantine
On the days when we wept—
and they were many—we did it
over the sound of a television
or radio, or the many engines
of the sky. It was rarely so quiet
we could hear just our sadness,
the smallness of it
that is merely the sound of wind
and water between the many pages
of the lungs. Many afternoons
we left the house still crying
and drove to a café or the movies,
or back to the hospital where we sat
dumb under the many eyes
of Paul Klee. There were many
umbrellas, days when it refused
to rain, cups of tea ignored. We
washed them all in the sink,
dry eyed. It’s been a while,
we’re cried out. We collect pauses
and have taken to reading actual
books again. We go through them
like yellow lights, like tunnels
or reunions, we forget which;
the older you are the more similes,
the more pangs per hour. Indeed,
this is how we break one hour into
many, how healing wounds time
in return. And though we know
there will always be crying to do,
just as there’s always that song,
always a leaf somewhere in the car,
this may be the only sweetness left,
to have a few griefs we cherish
against the others, which are many.
Today’s poem first appeared via The Academy of American Poets’ ‘Poem A Day’ series, was then published in the collection Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press), and appears here today with permission from the poet.
Brendan Constantine‘s work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, FIELD, Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly, and Hotel Amerika, among other journals. His most recent collection is Dementia, My Darling (2016 Red Hen Press). He has received grants and commissions from the Getty Museum, James Irvine Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches poetry at the Windward School and regularly offers classes to hospitals, foster homes, veterans, and the elderly.
Editor’s Note: I’m just going to come out and say it: You need this poem. Right now. At this moment. In the wake of tragedies too hard to hold and too heavy to bear. You have watched the sky fall. You have been broken by the debris of what you thought to be true, of what has and has not been shattered. All that you know in your heart about what is right and what is wrong, about human kindness and decency, about the kind of country you want to live and raise your children and grow old in, the kind of world you want this to be. It’s all fallen apart. And that sadness you feel? That resistance to getting out of bed in the morning? Those spontaneous tears you find yourself bursting into? You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.
But this poem. This poem! This poem knows our suffering. This poem knows our shared grief. This poem knows that “On the days when we wept— / and they were many—we did it / over the sound of a television.” This poem knows that “Many afternoons / we left the house still crying.” And this poem knows, too, that there is a time beyond this time — for better or worse — that the day will come when we are cried out, when we will read books again and reach milestones, and yet. And yet this poem knows that some griefs we will carry with us. Held fast by markers like where you were when Kennedy was shot or when 9/11 happened. This poem knows that there are “a few griefs we cherish / against the others, which are many.” And we know that this moment in American history is one of those griefs we will cherish against the others, which will be many.
Want to see more from Brendan Constantine?
The LA Review of Books on Dementia, My Darling
The BlueShift Journal
Betty Sargent for Publisher’s Weekly
Video by Sarah Jensen, winner of Write Bloody’s Best Poetry Video award, 2013