The Rhythm of Loss

The Rhythm of Loss
by Claudia Morrison



Dead, now that the beavers
are done with it,
once a perfect Ansell Adams vista
of pine, birch, supple young oak

They dammed a hidden stream,
built their lodge,
worked away month after month,
gnawing, felling


Can we not remember to be happy,
see around or through the pain

remember sitting by the water
on a sun-drenched day
great mother clouds with flocks
of obedient cloudlets
trolling the sky

or strolling through the woods,
soft earth and granite shelf
alternating under foot,
birdsong and leaf rustle

the stretch and pull of muscle
as you paddle the canoe,
its noiseless glide
lavender light bathing
water and sky

It’s all there, it will always be there,
unless and until the doors,
one by one, shut,
the wiring disconnects,

Until then the trick
is to move to one side
or one layer down,
and know with Meursault
that We are all of the privileged class,

that we have always been happy,
and are so still.

The trees died slowly,
from the roots up.
Three summers ago their tops
were feathery green

Now, in spring, they’re the color
of death,
some trunks still upright,
others prone.

Yet water bugs dart about
the pond’s surface
in between the dead things,

and today we saw the heron:
the summer begins when we first
glimpse the heron.


A white egret sits upright
on the branch of a gnarled tree,
its trunk denuded of bark.

He does not move, even though
we approach in the canoe
closer than we ever have before.

Only an occasional tilt of his head
reveals he’s alive, though once he stretches,
then retracts, his extraordinary neck.

We wait, motionless, while the sun sets.
“Perhaps he’s nailed to his perch,”
I tease, “perhaps he’s a sculpture,”

thinking, perhaps he is Tom’s ghost,
your father, who left us five days ago:
he always loved the wildlife here,

and perhaps that other, smaller egret
that we unexpectedly saw as we paddled back
across the lake (the moon bobbing in front of us

like a silver balloon) was his mate,
the mother bird keeping watch,
he on one shore, she on the other.

Bird, ghost, presence—if I had
my camera and clicked the shutter,
would it have startled you into flight?

Would the film have shown anything at all
but the bare white tree dyed with patches
of blue cast by the lengthening shadows?

Was that you, Tom, were you there?


Don’t ask what I did,
unless sitting and looking
count as doing

I listened to the water’s whisper,
the creaking of my neighbor’s dock,
songs of nameless birds

I watched the water wrinkle with waves,
blue at the crest, black in the shadows

I saw tree images dancing,
and the sun make clear each strand
of a spider web on my ladder

I watched and tried to forget
that my aged, beloved cat
had disappeared, hiding
we didn’t know where,

as if she had decided
that this cloudless, sunny day
was the right day to die.

FOR EUGENE IONESCU(A Memoir of the Fifties)

“How curious it is, how curious,
and how bizarre.”

—The Bald Soprano

It was our favorite phrase back then,
applicable everywhere we looked:
to Eisenhower smiling on the golf course
while McCarthy scowled and another
test rocket blew up on the launch pad
and Strontium 90 from desert blasts was found
in mothers’ milk, how curious.

And fraternity boys on our campus
getting girls drunk and calling them pigs
and trying to fuck them with wine bottles
and one guy went out on the frat house porch
one night with a gun and one bullet
saying “I’m going to do the stupidest thing
I’ve ever done in my life,” and after twirling
the chamber pulled the trigger & hit the jackpot.
Brains on the frat house porch, bizarre.

Then you and I got married, in order to have
a license so we could rent an apartment, since
no one would rent to people “living in sin”
(how curious), and I worked that summer
at a respected university and found
it was funded by the CIA, a job so Top Secret
I didn’t know for a month what it was,
and when I did it was against the law
to talk about it.

And then in graduate school fellow student Frank,
as impoverished as the rest of us, took out
a huge insurance policy on his newly married wife
and hired a thug to kill her, which he did
while he (Frank) did his Christmas shopping,
buying the wife a teddy bear and himself an alibi.
When acquitted at the trial the first thing
he asked reporters was “When do I get my money?”

Don’t ask me what was on the tube,
The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy,
the usual dreck. Elvis was a joke.
We read “Howl” between classes and took to smoking grass,
draped the statue of the hero in the square
with rolls and rolls of toilet paper.
How curious he looked out there,
as if proud.


Sounds like a girl’s name
let me introduce my daughter

black rose
rose of mourning

the widowed soul weeping,
like the trees are doing now—

no, only dripping
gray rain


The month that speaks of death,
of trees casting their vanity
to the ground

Naked month of meager light,
the sun far distant and watery,
birds and insects stilled

Brown month, when fallen leaves
decay to powder and the air
needles the bones

Death-month, my birth-month,
each one repeating
the rhythm of loss.


How, falling,
it is visible
but soundless,
as in a dream

having mass,
but dropping
so softly,
absorbing sound
into itself

And then there’s
its utter whiteness:
if sound is muffled
light is amplified,
sent streaming back

Did we leave the outside light on
I ask my husband
as we go to bed

Raising the shade
I catch my breath:
the yard is bathed
in candle power

moonlight dancing
in sparkles and winks
on new, just-fallen snow


I think of those who plucked you
from the greenhouse in Mexico or Costa Rica
who put you in a truck and took you to the airport

Of the pilot who flew you here
and the baggage handlers who unloaded you
the trucker who brought you to the flower store

Of the woman who wrapped your stems
in plastic and then in colored paper,
rendering you for coin

Of whoever grafted you or grew you from seed,
of that seed and its sprouting into seedling
the unfolding of stem, leaf, bud

Of the ancestors of that seed,
and the wind-blown insect helpers,
generations beyond count

Of the nine winter days you graced my room,
peering out from clusters of baby’s breath,
brilliant red fading to pink, then beige,
petals blowsy, drooping,
dropping one by one.

What is that blocking the door?
The wind is howling outside,
but surely not with such strength?

I used to be able to go from here to there
I used to have the confidence I could.

Am I not making enough effort?
Have I forgotten how to put my shoulder into it?

I can’t see past the shape of your death
outlined in the doorframe;
behind it, darkness, ice.

I am trapped in here,
more than I ever was in our marriage.

Never have I longed so for spring.


Claudia Morrison was born in the United States, but has been a Canadian citizen for the past thirty years. Her published work includes a novel, From The Foot of the Mountain, which was short-listed for the Hugh McLennan Award for best English fiction in Quebec; a collection of stories, I Should Know (Morgaine House) and a chapbook of poems, Arrival, which won the League of Canadian Poets’ First Chapbook Award in 2000. A retired professor, who taught literature, film, and social issues at John Abbott College for the last twenty years of her academic life, she lives with her partner, James Joyce (yes, that’s his name) in Pointe Claire, Quebec. She has recently published a second novel, The Witness At The Gates. Her web site, contains a monthly “musing,” usually in the form of a poem.

Copyright© Claudia Morrison, 2012