Counting Our Losses


We learn our grief like any human art:
By simple observation first and then
By repetition till we know by heart
The part we have to play as mourners when
Grandparents, parents, cronies, childhood friends
Begin to form the open-ended list
Of those to whom we’ll never make amends
Or tell how much their laughter will be missed.
The rituals of loss — the gravesite rite,
The murmured sympathy and mumbled prayer —
Can help us manage through the day, but night
Remains beyond their reach, a precinct where
The dead abide as long as we survive,
As kind and cruel as when they were alive.

James J. Barnes, a former career diplomat with the U.S. State Department, is now a research fellow in international economics at Rice University. His work has appeared most recently in Time Slice: Houston Poetry 2005 (Mutabilis Press).

First published in Measure, Volume 1 (2006)