Two Poems

Poetry / Donna Vorreyer


:: Grief Questionnaire ::

          1.   How do you characterize your grief?
                     a.   an entire pan of brownies
                     b.   The Cure on shuffle
                     c.   the elongated drip of honey into tea
                     d.   blankets pulled up, no shower for days

          2.   Is your grief lapis or indigo?

          3.   With what tools do you access your grief?
                     a.   pick ax and shovel to split bedrock
                     b.   “Konstantine” on repeat in the car
                     c.   old photographs in a cardboard box
                     d.   tattoos of flowers and clocks and stars

          4.   Is your grief engorged or hollow?

          5.   What are the intentions of your grief?
                     a.   to make you cry in a Target aisle
                     b.   to question each minuscule decision
                     c.   to guilt you when you laugh or smile
                     d.   to comfort in a language you do not speak

          6.   Is your grief an arrow or a bow?

          7.   Your grief comes mostly:
                     a.   in the last car of a long freight train
                     b.   in mosquito bites on your elbows and knees
                     c.   in contrails drawn across the evening sky
                     d.   in costume dramas on a small screen

          8.   Is your grief hush or bellow?

          9.   Describe your grief in less than two hundred words. 

          10. Rate your grief on a scale from one shoe to a flock of birds.


:: Philosophy 101 ::

I look up to trace my father’s portrait 
in the stars, make it a constellation, bright 
enough to illuminate the dark corners 
of the path I walk too close to dusk 
with the sun sinking fast, make it smile 
on the forest in spring, its new green, 
its messy floor, ferns unfurling 
from nautilus to broad frond, slow 
opening like the sweet groping of hands 
on skin, one ear tuned to the creaking 
of a door, the rest of the body orchestral 
with nerves, flushed electric, close to but 
not quite the engulfing awe of an unspoiled 
landscape, large enough to hold every breath 
I’ve ever taken, like the exhausted exhalations 
of a nine-hour hike through the cloud line, 
forest, glaciers, a valley pure white, the trail 
erased by snow, at the end soaked and shivering 
but so alive and if Kant and Descartes 
had seen these things, I would never need 
to ask why I was here, why he was gone, 
I would cry O stars, O spring, 
O body, O mountain, my father’s 
face shining in every single part. 



From the writer


:: Account ::

In the months fol­low­ing the deaths of both of my par­ents, I con­tin­ued to receive com­mu­ni­ca­tions from the hos­pice orga­ni­za­tion that had assist­ed us near the end of both of their lives. These ques­tion­naires and brochures, meant to be help­ful, were not. They attempt­ed to neat­ly shape grief into a series of steps or box­es to check off, offered plat­i­tudes and med­i­ta­tions, and often made me feel worse rather than bet­ter. They made me ques­tion whether my own unpre­dictable, pow­er­ful, and often sur­re­al expe­ri­ence of loss was “cor­rect” or “nor­mal.” I start­ed to write poems using the tools of ety­mol­o­gy, psy­chol­o­gy, phi­los­o­phy, and even the famil­iar ques­tion­naire to cre­ate my own explo­rations of this com­plex jour­ney with lan­guage and ideas that felt more famil­iar, more pre­cise, more relat­ed to my own. In the realms of invent­ed nar­ra­tive, dis­con­nect­ed imagery, and stream of con­scious­ness, I found a sort of relief that seemed tai­lored to me. Every­one expe­ri­ences grief dif­fer­ent­ly, and these poems try to cap­ture a bit of the fluc­tu­at­ing nature of my own emotions. 


Don­na Vor­rey­er is the author of Every Love Sto­ry is an Apoc­a­lypse Sto­ry (2016) and A House of Many Win­dows (2013), both from Sun­dress Pub­li­ca­tions. Her poems, reviews, and essays have appeared in Rhi­no, Tin­der­box Poet­ry, Poet Lore, Sug­ar House Review, Waxwing, Whale Road Review, and many oth­er jour­nals. Her third full-length col­lec­tion is forth­com­ing from Sun­dress in 2020.