The Widow’s Coat
Written during the two years following the death of her husband, Miriam Sagan’s The Widow’s Coat is the roadmap of a journey between grief and recovery, remembrance and release. The poems paint landscapes of bleak astonishment that he is no longer alive, vivid images of his continued presence in the everyday experience of memory, and jumbled ranges of confusion and surprise as she finds herself once again in love with a childhood sweetheart. “There is something slightly shocking about the mixture of love and death,” Sagan writes in her introduction. There is no question that Sagan’s visions are shocking: angels on a cargo ferry, the skeleton of a writer at death’s black typewriter, stone lions ringed by fire. But the emotional images are also vivid and true, and perhaps even more startling as the ordinary and the incomprehensible collide: “Why is the oil in my car leaking? Did I leave the kettle on? Why are you dead?” Life does not end with the death of a loved one, Sagan shows us; it spirals up and spirals down, a sort of DNA of the heart, “a nautilus shell, a many-chambered molecule.”
I Know Who You Are
Last night I dreamed that you weren’t dead
We’d broken up
You were still sick, but well enough
To hold a job
I yelled at you on the phone: why the hell
Can’t you come home once in a while
And read your daughter a good night story?
You are a 36-year-old ghost—
You will never be any older
In the photograph your head is shaved, zen priest
You wear a red T-shirt, you smile
You hold a doll’s head
Which you are repairing
You haven’t looked this good in years.
You are my first husband.
You are my husband
You are a four-month-old dead person
Like a four-month-old fetus
No one can feel you move
I might still abort or miscarry you,
Like a developing baby
With each month you become increasingly
Now you are a reason—
The reason your sister will not get out of bed,
The reason your other sister has a migraine
The reason acquaintances embrace me
My friends enquire of each other: how is she?
The reason a man who is not you
Tells me on the phone: I love you
You are the reason I won’t listen
To Otis Redding
The reason N. has a flashback, A. hates her husband,
L. weeps, that my phone bill is $500.
I know who you were:
Bad-tempered, a terrible driver,
The only person I’ll ever know
Who read Shakespeare in a dull moment for pleasure
I know who you are: ash, bone,
A name, my tears,
Mail that arrives
That cannot be properly delivered
Nor properly returned.
Copyright © 1999 by Miriam Sagan
“In The Widow’s Coat Miriam Sagan has written the shrewd, funny, unbearable 'language of grief’ in all its quicksilver and shiver. This book is an elegiac and wild dance with the knives of love and longing on the very threshold of being.” —Rebecca Sieferle
“When the worst befalls the best, sometimes amazed music occurs. Miriam Sagan eulogizes and exalts so that we're able to feel our own griefs while rejoicing that she has articulated loss so bravely and well. In The Widow's Coat, we touch extreme experience and are uplifted by her ability to transform through poetry and new love.” —Joan Logghe