In the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, I remember people making the comment that in times of national tragedy it was natural to turn to the arts. That in moments of unspeakable sadness and incomprehensible horror, sometimes rhetoric and punditry fall even shorter than usual in helping us to heal.
Yesterday morning, I cried after I dropped my son off at kindergarten, even though I teach at his school, even though our campus is far more secure than most. I held it together until he kissed me goodbye and bounced, laughing, off with his friends. And then I couldn’t hold it together any more. My husband, who dropped our daughter off at the same school later in the morning, had the same experience.
Today was a little better.
I’ve been told that on The Voice, they made an incredible tribute to the Sandy Hook victims. Everyone stood onstage together, each holding a sign bearing a single name, and sang Leonard Cohen’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Hallelujah.” I love that song, and one day I might feel strong enough to look up the clip on YouTube, but today is not that day.
I’d like to offer you this little gift, reposted here with permission from the author. This poem originally appeared in Cortland Review.
“The Man Who Looks Lost as He Stands in the Sympathy Card Section at Hallmark”
by Matthew Olzmann
The man who looks lost as he stands
in the sympathy card section at Hallmark
looks so sad with his bent umbrella
that you want to place a hand on his shoulder,
say, “It’ll be Okay.” But you don’t.
Because you also look like a crumbling statue
narrowed by rain, because you too have been abandoned
by language and what’s there to speak of or write
among so many words. There are not enough words
to say, Someone is gone and in their place
is a blue sound that only fits inside
an urn which you’ll drag to the mountains
or empty in an ocean with the hope
that the tide will deliver a message
that you never could. Because even those words
would end like a shipwreck at the bottom
of clear water. Someone would eventually look down,
notice the shattered hull, the mast
snapped in half, and believe those words
meant ruin, when they really meant,
starfish, iceberg, or scar tissue.
And even those words would fail. In this room
that smells like lemon candle wax and wild berry
potpourri, you pick up a card, set
it down again. Pick up a card, toss
it aside. In leaving, you take only an empty envelope.
Or you are an empty envelope. Or you’re the boat
searching for the glacier to gouge its side again.
You’re the door that opens to the sleet outside.
You’re the bell that bangs above the door as the door slams shut.