The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

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APRIL 2023 Issue

Facts of Winter

Facts of Winter

for Paul LaFarge


Poems on the occasion of the death of a loved one often assert there is no death.

For example, because there shall again be an encounter elsewhere, after our death.

Or else because something remains—a poem, a keepsake, a piece of clothing—that retains the
loved one by means of synecdoche.

Poems on the occasion of the death of a loved one can be the most beautiful poems in the
poet’s corpus.

Why should beauty in poetry show a relation to loss. Is art an exercise in fort-da for grownups.

Or is it because beauty is vaguely mathematical, encompassing symmetry and other forms of
infinity, and so is the idea of never, since never goes on forever.

Or is it because we are able to imagine a person only when that person is absent.

Even love poetry is usually about one-sided love (admittedly, two-sided love offers fewer
occasions for poetry).

Poetry does not only vent the event, in this case, death: it also makes beauty, and beauty
consoles at a distance.

As the event is represented in language, our grief transfers onto the representation, where it
can be kept at arm’s length, shaped, and shared with others or oneself.

Such is the magic of poetry: its effigies anesthetize as they aestheticize.

Yet it is also true that the death of a loved one can leave us less capable of making beauty.

For example, Zhuangzi spent years making fun of Huizi, whose passion for logical clarity
predictably led to absurd conclusions.

Then, at the grave of Huizi, Zhuangzi confessed he could speak no longer: he now had no one he
could argue with.


After you left, I received your voicemail.

You left it eight months ago but I don’t check my voicemail. Also, I was away.

I checked my voicemail while on the expressway with my mother. She was doing the driving.

I received your voicemail while looking at the far-away city of skyscrapers in the setting sun to
my right.

In your voicemail you asked to meet in the city before I went away.

I had intended to come upstate but now you were coming down to the city.

We did meet in the city in the end and I have a photograph of us together on that day.

I surely must have called you back without receiving your voicemail.

Wayne and I drove upstate for two and a half hours on a recent unwinterlike day. He was doing
the driving.

He had flown in from New Zealand, where he had had himself buried in elf armor from The Lord
of Rings
, so that a 3-dimensional radar photograph might be taken of him under the soil.

I asked him if he intended to express emotion with his art.

I had the wrong SIM-card and had not yet received your voicemail.

When I came out of the building where your memorial came to an end, a hawk was circling in
the unwinterlike air to my left.

After a half a mile the sight of the huge river rolling down to the city took my breath away.


Eugene Ostashevsky

Eugene Ostashevsky is the author of, most recently, The Feeling Sonnets, a poetry collection about the effects of a non-native language on emotions, parenting, and identity.


The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2023

All Issues