877: The Lifeline

877: The Lifeline

877: The Lifeline


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

In my family, when tragedy strikes, like many families, we cook. If someone dies, the pots come out and the pilot lights are lit. Water is boiled. Music is played. We try to reignite the sensorium which shuts down in the face of grief. We arrive with aluminum-covered quiches and glass bakeware with bubbling casseroles. Cheeseboards with cured meats, olives, and jellies are laid out and served. We turn a dining room into a cafeteria. We feast. I recall, when Grandmom Rose passed away, for a quick disorienting moment, I thought we were gathered for Thanksgiving, then remembered the matriarch wasn’t there presiding. And it wasn’t even November.

When natural disaster occurs, when catastrophe falls upon us, we humans lean into life. We need the counterbalancing force of creation and renewal to tilt the world back toward meaning and light. We pursue activities that resist a chaos of the mind and spirit, some endeavor that gives us a foothold on the unthinkable, an anchor, a reminder of the eternal nature of existence.

How do I cope with loss? I dance . . . well, I used to. On June 25, 2009, my girlfriend and I flagged down a taxi on Eighth Avenue. Upon entering, the driver apologized. He was quietly yet visibly crying. He told us his daughter just phoned from India; Michael Jackson died. That night, we went to the club Le Poisson Rouge. The dance floor became a healing circle of strobe lights and Jackson’s music; we danced through our shock and grief and gave our bodies to a collective and joyous celebration of life.

These days I reach for poetry. In the face of atrocity of some kind, I am often left speechless. The right words, however, restore me out of my bewildering and overwhelming grief and bafflement.

Today’s poem acknowledges the extent to which we are gutted when faced with personal travesties. But then, through some activity, some creative practice, we become less confounded, and find life-sustaining clarity.

The Lifeline
by Pádraig Ó Tuama

for Dave Laverty

Here is what I know: when 
that bell tolls again, I 
need to go and make something,
anything: a poem, a pie, a terrible
scarf with my terrible knitting, I 
need to write a letter, remind myself
of any little lifeline around me.

When death sounds, I forget most
of what I learnt before. I go below. 
I compare my echoes with other people’s 
happiness. I carve that hole in my own 
chest again, pull out all my organs once
again, wonder if they’ll ever work again
stuff them back again. Begin. Again.

"The Lifeline" by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Used by permission of the poet.