Tracy Lee Karner

After Grief, We Might Make Something

Tracy Lee Karner
Wall of Hope in Providence, RI

After the terrorist attacks of September 9, 2011, the citizens of Providence responded by making art. The process of creative expression served to offer children, teens and adults a way to express feelings and seek healing,
Thousands of these tiles line the walls of an inspiring tunnel between Union Station Square and the Water Park– a passageway for citizens to journey collectively from light to darkness to light, from despair to hope, and perhaps someday, from fear of  war and violence, into secure peace, inspired by trust.
And so we who are creative, keep making something of our losses and our hopes. Dance. Embrace. Sing. Sculpt. Build the transition from despair to hope. Call for the flute, the violin, and the drum. Kindle the candle, join hands. Build community. Hope.
Tracy Lee Karner
Close-up Wall of Hope: Peace, Hope, American Flag

As I said in my last post, sometimes I need poetry to speak to me and for me.  But in the throes of tragedy, I am silent.
Here’s a poem I wrote in 1992, long enough after I suffered a heart-wrenching loss that words had returned to me. This is one of those times when a poem from the past will have to be my voice in the present.
1777, When She Stitched the Flag
It was more like this, I imagine–
she waited too long for word from the son
who had marched off with the easy optimism
of men concerned only with ideas.
His heartbeat echoed in her soul when she knew
he was dead. And the howl
that can never be voiced worked its way
through her blood to her fingers. She chose
some fabric: cut muslin from his christening gown;
blue from the dress she wore when his father
courted her; and then something red.
She sat on her porch, rocking and stitching
and humming to herself (the neighbors thought)
but it was no tune. It was the mourning voice
that knows no language.
My grandmother taught me the value of stitching,
piecing scraps into blankets. Sometimes
the waiting days are so endless, tears
so familiar they are meaningless, there is
simply nothing else to do. You carefully
select the fabric, thread the needle, place
the thimble on the finger of your hand, and
you make something.
What are you compelled or inspired to make after grief?
Tracy Lee Karner
Rhode Island Community Response to September 11th

9 thoughts on “After Grief, We Might Make Something”

  1. What a wonderful poem, Tracy! ‘Making’ is a good way to kick despair in the teeth.
    I love the memory fabrics she chose and the simple steps of getting to work:
    You carefully
    select the fabric, thread the needle, place
    the thimble on the finger of your hand, and
    you make something.

    1. Thank you, Violet — it’s Ken’s favorite of my poems, he’s always asking me to read it. I usually do not like my poems from 20 years ago. I was just beginning to write poetry then, and feel like there was so much I didn’t know, didn’t understand about the craft. This one, however, still speaks to me. It was one of those rare poems that came all at once, from I don’t know where… (Denise Levertov said those were the poems she trusted most, but it rarely happened to her, either).

    1. Thank you, Marylin– it has been a strange week here. I posted on facebook that, having lived in the midwest and the middle south, I realize that people from outside of New England can’t imagine how small of a place this is–Boston is so close (45 minutes away). The 6 New England States are in some ways like 1 midwestern state — the Patriots and even the Red Sox belong to all of us, and in many ways, so does Boston. Most of us have close friends/relatives in Boston, who were on lockdown on Thursday/Friday. What a weird thing to have happen… I have to say that the resilience, of hoping and going on, but not forgetting, is very much part of the character of the people here. It’s a wonderful place.

  2. What a great reminder that we need outlets for our emotions. I’m actually a bit at a loss about what I do after grief. I am not sure. I think I have an increased hunger for human connection, for going out and meeting someone, and being in someone’s life. It’s what matters. I am not a creative person, so I find little solace in creating art. But I love connections.

    1. I think all humans are creative — some are artsy creators, some are scientific, social, foodie, musical, crafters, writers… I think human connections/relationships are continually creative/generative. And I definitely think you’re creative.

      1. Thanks, Tracy. I think it was more meant in the way of traditional creativity: as in drawing, painting, writing unique content. I learned over the last years that that is not a field I am very confident in and I am okay with that. I appreciate other’s work and definitely have an artsy side to me, but I would not consider myself creative…again, in the traditional sense of the word. But if seen broader, the way you look at it, you are right. And I cannot think of a better way to describe relationships and connections that keep creating new exciting developments again and again.

          1. Yes, that is very true. It can be so intimidating or inhibiting. I am not saying that it is true in all fields, I definitely do not feel inhibited or intimidated or frustrated that I do not perceive myself as creative. But I can totally see the destructive potential in it.
            Thanks for sharing the link. Neither of us had seen it. This is astounding. Incredible. I am so glad you pointed that out. What a fascinating project. Perception is such a beast, especially self-perception.

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