Literary Yard

Search for meaning

Poem: Honeymoon Dirge

By: Edmund Weisberg

To be sitting there eating
As the bridegroom lay dying.
Of course, we had no clue at the time.
There had been an accident, we were told.
The ceremony, it was hoped,
Would now follow dinner.
So dig in.
Pleasant, nervous conversation
Overcast by a fetid pall.
Shocks at the altar,
I might have thought,
Occur only on television,
Usually a manifestation of the writers’ dearth of ideas.
No writer would dare to concoct this scenario.

First tears,
Mine in my mind,
Appear between dinner and dessert.
It’s not the food.
The thought that the bride had prepared so much,
Anticipated for so long,
But counter to all of our assuaging words,
Her anxiety was borne out.
In her worst fears, though,
She wouldn’t have imagined this hitch.

Three hours after the ceremony was to have begun,
The bridal gown and wedding gifts
Were stored for safekeeping.
No ceremony tonight.
It’s fairly serious.

  • * *

We, the guests, would have probably remembered the month,
The time of year,
But not the date of our marrying friends.
The date is now indelibly etched.

This young man can’t be dead.
I rode to the rehearsal dinner with him
And another friend
On the night before the scheduled rites.
We talked about the O.J. Simpson trial
Then distracting the nation.

After dinner, we spoke
And I stood back as he blew smoke
From his cigarette
In what appeared to be every conceivable direction.
My only hint,
Though retrospective,
Was a moment during the meal
When he seemed wistful, aloof,
Staring into the distance,
Mulling over, bemoaning
That most of the guests that night
Were there for Johanna.

Sunday morning,
As they would have embarked on their honeymoon,
The grim phone call comes from a friend.
The groom had died
As the vows would have been uttered.
He had never donned his tuxedo.
He had not been in a car accident.
He killed himself on his wedding day
By drinking a large, pure dose of arsenic.

Amidst the horror
And Unprecedented shock,
We groped for details,
An explanation,
Knowing, tacitly,
That only the deceased
Had those answers.
Not the answers.

Not until the Thursday before
The wedding
Did she learn that her soon-to-be
Would not be in attendance.
During the earlier stages of courtship,
She knew of his parents’ disapproval,
But had been led to believe
That their objections
Had been resolved.
But, she was eight years older,
They contended,
And not Korean.
They continued to feel that she had trapped
Their first-born child,
Though not their first to attempt suicide,
So they fought back
Once they learned that the ceremony
Had not been postponed,
As their son led them to believe.
They forbade his siblings,
A brother whom he disliked
And a sister, maybe his only cherished relative,
From attending the nuptials.
It is likely,
But unconfirmed,
That he faced the threat
Of complete parental repudiation.

  • * *

If I were in her place
I would torture myself with the same thoughts
Even though what she assumes, what I’d assume,
Is unknowable.
That if she had just gotten him through that day
He never would have killed himself.
Friends have lobbied as to the irrelevance,
The speciousness,
Of this line of thinking,
Offering the cruel comfort of the belief
That he would have committed the act
A friend, also, I tend to side
With the bride, the widow.
If, somehow, this day had ended
With its promise intact
The couple would have shared the heart-rending
The desolation
By his parents’ disavowal
Until, perhaps,
The birth of the first child
Cajoling the first-time grandparents
To come around.
But, she couldn’t have known.

She lamented, so poignantly,
That only if their relationship had ended
With a break-up
She would have the solace
Of closure
And the knowledge
That he was alive.

A quarter century of manipulative, grasping, coercive
Reared greater pull
Than the four years of
His life’s love.

  • * *

Nature’s seasonal changes
Strike, rattling the senses.
How long has he been gone?
It had seemed like one long day
For the bereaved.

Standing upon his grave,
She is as close as her body’s height.
But separated
By months, Eternity and his
Rash, lethal hand.

Her mourning will resume
After she lays
The gift upon the tomb,
The marking,
The celebration of the anniversary
Of his birth.

Buried in August.
Memorialized in October.
Visited in December.

Grief takes on a life of its own.
This Life,
Unlike his, must be respected
As it evolves and
Sometimes preys.
Pray that it does not
Consume her.

She repeated, like an incantation,
That she wanted to die.
That when she stood by his grave,
She fought
The overwhelming desire
To crawl inside with him.
This forbidden talk
Frightens some friends
Who respond with lugubrious pleas
Not to deracinate another friend.
After all that she endured, though,
She would have to be crazed
Not to consider
Not to consider
Or to
Long for death.
Acknowledging this must be part
Of the grieving process
And of the listening.

One day,
One will know,
Likely, after it has come
And subtly passed,
The mourning
Will be less encompassing,
The devastation less acute.
But their tragedy,
Our tragedy,
Will persist undiminished.

  • * *

I met you, Inchul,
In the silly world of retail
At the first small chain
Of bookstores
Selling espresso to customers
And requiring literature
Competency among booksellers.
We were elite,
We thought,
Making at least $6.25 an hour.

You seemed to exhibit
Exceedingly virile qualities
That I later thought
Might be masking
Is rarely if ever
Just arrogance.
But I would eventually glimpse
Your childlike sweetness, too,
And tender, poetic charm
That I got to know more intimately
Through Johanna’s eyes,
Her voice, and her heart.
Johanna would extol your soft side,
Excuse, and laud, the rougher exterior.
But it wasn’t manly
To do what you did.
Not courageous.
Maybe not even
The converse.
Not cowardly, craven,
Not describable
By one word.
Not the fateful
Fatal act
Of a desperate
Helplessly flailing
To extricate
Before asphyxiating
From his parents’
Umbilical cord.

  • * *

Your final statement
Still resonates.
And will
As long as all the witnesses live.

Johanna found another man,
In the only context that was possible,
A profoundly sympathetic man,
Who himself
Lost a lover, a mate
To arbitrary, peremptory Fate.
Death not of her own choosing.

Johanna was
Of the beauty
And compatibility
You brought,
Still distraught
Years later
Over your abominable
But she benefited
From John’s
Expansive magnanimity,
Fortitude, kindness
And will,
The bitter pill
Of maturity
That you lacked.

Their love,
One of your
Amid the ashes
Of your life,
Facing the raw,
Engulfing darkness
Of death –
May not survive.
The course of Nature,
Furious, harmonious,
Elusively discernible
Mass of contradictory ingredients,
Is foolish
Or wasteful
Of scant time.
I would guess
And feel
Only that they
Will try to make it work.
They will try.

More important
Than what she misses
From you
Or relishes
About another
Is what she has had
To rummage for,
Disconsolately, frantically,
To find in herself.
Forced, by you,
Your struggle,
And your shackled,
Shattered parents,
To rely on herself,
On her constitution,
And the assistance
Of other survivors,
And despite her
To the contrary,
Her need to lose herself
In a fog of cigarette smoke,
A frenzy of coffee pots,
The anesthetic of television,
The diversion of
Over adopting a Chinese baby,
She never denied
The unthinkable reality.
Not in my mind.
Denial and numbness
Are as distinct, separate and unequal
As the former law of the land,
Plessy v. Ferguson.
Denial is O.J. Simpson,
Weinstein, Cosby, Spacey, et al.
The Republican Party.
Numbness is the rest of us
Responding to the daily
Onslaught of senseless violations.
Johanna never misdiagnosed
Her wounds
Nor suppressed
Her feelings,
The inevitable
But unjustifiable
The anger, despair, sorrow.
A farrago of feeling
Tumbling out
In torrents
Too laden
And leaden
For some people
Around her
To endure.
She survived
The loss of those
Of your creed,
Of your need,
Of the effects
Of your ever-rippling

I try to be
Ever mindful
That the world
Is neither
Nor white
Nor black and white.
The shades
In a varied spectrum.
One shouldn’t be reduced
To one’s final act.
The means evince
More meaning
Than the end.
The smart can be stupid.
The beautiful, hideous.
The dense, insightful.
The straight, gay.
The male, female.
The left, right.
The brutal, tender.
The dying, vitally alive.
The living, ghostly, resigned.
But a shell.
Turpitude and rectitude
Melt in a pot.
Very little is simple.
The glass is half-full
And half empty.
We think this is a comedy,
We feel it’s a tragedy,
We surmise,
We know
That it’s really
Always both.
Our wholes
Are tainted,
Tragically sometimes,
In different ways
Than the sums
Of our parts,
The songs of our hearts.
But not reducible.
Not black.
Not white.

I’m still learning
From your final act,
And from daily life,
A sometimes agonizing travail
But usually worth the time or trouble;
Better than the alternative,
As I’ve often pondered.
Your alternative.
Your death and Johanna’s
Aching lament
That she wished it were
A break-up
And that you were alive,
Tinged and stained
My views on romance
And lost love.
Never could I listen
To a wistful ballad
Nor suffer
The slings and arrows
Of a lover’s duel,
With trepidation,
I thought.
Only the heartbreak
Of the death of a loved one,
Regardless of age,
Could shower and radiate
Ravaging, inconsolable,
Unyielding anguish.
Is not that clear, though,
Not that simple, paradoxically,
And love too convoluted
To limn such absolutes.
Absolutely. Maybe.

The profound, mind-altering
Discord of your demise
Stunned me into an altered state of consciousness,
Somewhere between solipsism
And nihilism,
Then propelled me to muse
That no other
Could be as pervasive.
But perspectives change
And comparing sorrows
Seems to me now as pointless
As contrasting
The inhumanity of slavery
And the savagery of the Holocaust.
All sadness knows individual aspects.
Tolstoy saw the same,
Happy families are identical,
Unhappy families are unhappy
In their own unique way.
You chose Death, oblivion
And the absence of pain.
But living means facing
And integrating it
Into our souls,
Or risk their erosion.
Embracing the distressing,
What stifles or stultifies,
Rankles, aggravates,
Terrifies, lays waste,
Shouldn’t be easy,
But trying,
You’ve taught me,
Conquers or settles fear.

Maybe one of the primary purposes
Of our mission
Is to try to grow stronger
Until our parts
Wear out.
How to grow
Into our skin
We’re ready to shed it.
You were too young,
Of course,
For your heart to give out,
Battering others’ well after
Its own ultimate contraction.

And the scars
From your jarring
Bar crossing
Heal and teach
That your infliction
Cannot indemnify us
From affliction.
Nor should it.
Shows that
We can brook
And suffer through
The worst horrors
And that various
Will emerge,
Pierce, linger,
Plague, gnaw,
And become

To say that life is
In and of itself
Does not
Mean that life is fair,
Or incessantly pleasant.
To try to enjoy the desirable,
To experience the rapture,
One must
Embrace the whole package
Lest the elusive pleasures
Slip by;
To indulge in the purposes,
The distractions,
And shove the inevitable
Your reality now,
For just a little longer.

No, this place isn’t perfect.
Living means
Learning this and not fleeing,
Grousing, railing, agitating,
Striving to improve your lot,
And the lot of others,
I hope,
In this haphazard, threatening
Where ecstasy eludes,
Regret looms,
Perils lurk, and the ephemeral joys
Tantalize and promise.

  • * *

If I had my druthers,
My way, Inchul,
There would be no death.
At least, not the way
We usually conceive it,
If that isn’t too conceited or
Presumptuous to say.
Maybe that’s one crux
Of this stand-off.
Maybe you didn’t see it as an end,
But an end around,
To use an expression
From a sport you loved.

I would choose
To live
In every way as a human,
Or a few other select species,
To live the lives
I will not likely
Get to experience firsthand.

I am deeply, woefully
That you didn’t
Feel the same way.
And rue
That the forfeiture
Of your slot
Could not have
Somehow spared
The life of,
Given the space to,
Someone who wanted to stay
But had not the option.

For me, not knowing
The feelings
Of a person for whom
I feel longing and affection
Has always seemed
An insurmountable peak
As I’ve tried to intuit
Another’s feelings
Prior to or, worse,
Instead of asking.
But that’s a fault
I can reckon with,
And change.

It’s not knowing
That feels irreconcilable.
Not knowing
Why everything
Was so black and white
To you
On that humid Saturday
As we waited,
Teeming with anticipation.
Not knowing
If anyone or any words
Could have reached you,
Convinced you to change
Your mind, your choice.

  • * *

After the fact, the deed,
I heard that
You had told a classmate
Of your theft of pure arsenic
From the lab where you worked,
To kill
The rats
In your basement.
But Johanna
Would have told me
About an
In the house
That you shared.
She would have told me.

You didn’t mean
To abandon her
To leave
Her radiance,
Her intelligence
Her neediness,
Her inimitable, striking
Guffaw, the full-bodied
Joyful chortle
So musically expressive
Of her sensitive,
Saucy soul.
You didn’t mean
Not to see
The face of your beloved sister
Or even to flee
Your hateful
Parents and brother
Not before
You didn’t mean
To leave
The bitches’ brew
Of beauty and ugliness,
Good and evil,
Awe and dismissal
That comprise
Our homes,
This orb
That we rent
For far too brief
A time.
Did you?

  • * *

After you died
Johanna was
Unable or unready
To cast away
The afterdeath,
Holding on to your last tissue,
Last answering machine message,
Dreading that losing
Your cells, your voice,
Her wretchedness,
Would mean losing you,
The memory of you.

Afraid of facing the starkness,
The gravity and finality of your behavior,
Fearful, too, of forgetting, ignoring,
Becoming numb,
Letting you go.
Accepting your loss.
And terrified of denying the reality.
Your death,
The legacy you bequeathed to her.
The last bit of you,
A tangible void,
In her home and heart,
For which she continued to grasp.

Grappling with mixed signals,
Or clear future intentions.
The sunglasses you bought
For your honeymoon.

She loved you,
And reviled you,
Pitied, cursed,
And mourned you.
All at the same time.
So have we.

  • * *

When you were expected
At the altar
In the now long gone
Palladium restaurant,
As we sat stunned,
Johanna arrived with her parents
At St. Agnes Hospital.
She wasn’t your family member
By virtue of marriage,
And would never be.

She was denied
The dignity,
The first chance
To gaze
At your newly lifeless face,
Caress your cooling hands
That would never
Touch her again,
Never touch again.

  • * *

One of the sources of your suffering,
Your father,
Helped to keep Johanna alive.
Through indignation.

During the days and weeks
Of wallowing, moping,
Apathy to anything but
Her unbearable malaise,
The sickness of your loss,
Your brother and father
Broke into the house
Where you had dwelled
With Johanna,
Stole, by her account,
Repossessed, they said,
Your computer,
Your guitar,
Maybe some other items.

The break-in,
The violation,
Enraged Johanna
For weeks, months,
And forced her
To re-engage with the world,
Keeping her from languishing,
Like nothing else might have.

  • * *

Hair grows
In the most unseemly places,
Skin wrinkles,
Breasts sag,
Bellies bulge,
Bulges whither,
Joints creak,
Creeks overflow,
The sun rises and sets,
Seasons turn,
Cultures come and go,
Civilizations rise and fall,
Species die off,
Lives end.
But Life doesn’t end.
And, since your death,
Despite the nattering white noise
Of the media voices of our culture
Recounting the latest scandals
And far-reaching tragedies,
With the implicit expectation
That we will be here
Every day
To follow the unfolding events,
Or the aftermath,
You have missed much.
Every day in your sister’s life.
Your music, literature, and sports.
And some beautiful weather.
Even the infernal, seemingly unbearable
Hazy, hot, and humid days
About which I so love to inveigh,
Like the day you died.
Of course, you have missed
Much ugliness, too,
Along with
The coming climate catastrophe
That may doom us all.
At which you might have commiserated
With and offer succor
To your loved ones.

The sound of Johanna’s voice.
The comfort of her touch.
Living a life with her.

She married.
Johanna and John adopted a daughter from China.
Then conceived a daughter.
Janie and Camryn are their legacy.

The anniversary of your death
Remained difficult for her
For years.
She’d still talk about you
In the latter years.
But her family life –
Rearing her daughters –
And weight struggles,
Were foremost in her mind,
When not obsessing over
The injustices in the news
And spouting off on social media
Or participating in limerick contests.

  • * *

Johanna lived over 20 years
After you died.
I last saw her
Eight years before her death
When she was still willing to be seen,
At 300 pounds.
But talking
And staying connected
Through email
And social media,
The advent of which
Succeeded your life,
Continued to be important to us.

Like you,
She predeceased her parents.
I learned of her end
Through her mother’s
Friend request and message.

It was a Friday afternoon,
And I was relieved
To be home from work.
I read the words of Johanna’s mother,
What had befallen her only child
The day before,
And, at first, couldn’t comprehend
Their meaning.
As the harshly delivered communication,
Blunt and borne of shock,
And, as Johanna would have argued,
I found myself
In a crumpled heap,
Sobbing on my living room floor,
Until I made a plaintive cry,
A hysterical call to my baby sister,
Sharing the shattering truth,
Needing a palliative voice.

But is there an elixir?
More nostrum
Than panacea,
For startling,
Permanent loss?
Not for her father,
Whose eventual death she dreaded.
He succumbed to cancer
Three months
After his daughter’s
Gave out.
I miss her terribly.

  • * *

Your parents,
Who may have never
Completely accepted
Post-partum separation,
The relinquishing
Of control
Over a child’s life,
Who labored, and loved,
Under the strictures
Of culture,
Who may have never
Learned unconditional love,
Thus how to feel
And give it,
The wound
That they’ve incurred
That maybe no one
Will never,
Should never,
Wholly heal.

  • * *

Just as indifference,
Not hate,
Is the opposite of love,
The answer to pain
Need not be Death,
The absence of all feelings,
But the expression
Of passion, Life,
The arduous,
Potentially exhilarating
Of working through
Seemingly intractable problems
Not that it would have been easy.
Not to deny
That maybe for a moment,
Once you had decided
On action,
That there wasn’t
A moment of great relief.

Fight or flight?
Even if it was the only life
You had a right to take,
Taking it
Took much else.
Everyone in your world
Died your death,
Died a death
That day.

The ones who beget you
Don’t necessarily get you.
But I’ll never forget
Seeing your mother
Carried away at your wake.

I look at my imperfect life now, Inchul,
As I fear that I won’t come close
To fulfilling my potential,
As I struggle to make the most of each day,
And the nights, I should be so lucky,
As I know that if I live
A significant time longer,
Sorrow will visit again
And for joy, I will have to work
As I try to appreciate being blessed
By not having to live with the various draconian
Circumstances that have befallen
So many aggrieved others
Throughout history.

  • * *

My mind flits.
Mickey Mantle.
Jerry Garcia.
They died within days of your death.
You were much younger.
Antonin Scalia died
A day after Johanna.
She would have wanted to know that,
Though not what happened to his seat.

Sometimes I think the details
Of your death
Have taught me everything
I’ll ever need to know
And sometimes I think I know
Less and less
Each passing day.
I learned early on that Life isn’t fair.
Neither was the misery
You rained upon
Those who had given you
An overdose of pain,
And on those who gave you
Little or none
Or those in between.
But what I discovered that day,
Was it worth
The price of admission?
Could it have been gleaned
Some other way?

I couldn’t know what was in your mind.
I can’t help feeling that
Your end smacked of regret,
If you had been ready
To face the everlasting,
With a smirk
Or a simper,
To embrace the sempiternal,
Your demise,
While no less heinous,
Might have been
Somehow easier
To accept.
Though, without explanation,
Not easier
To comprehend.

As the story went,
Your best man,
After presenting
His perspective
On your dilemma
Heard you admit
You had taken
And responded to your request
To rush you to the hospital.
He held you there
As you stumbled
Toward oblivion.

I’m tired, Inchul.
Working too hard,
“Making a living,”
Some call it.
I’m not sure,
At times,
What makes a living.
And at times,
When fatigued
From it all,
I can imagine,
That not managing
To fulfill potential
Or at least approach it,
Experiencing more
Daily satisfaction,
That after
A long life
Rife with more resignation and failure
Than triumph,
Or in reaching
One’s physical limit,
Or surviving
Most if not all
Of one’s loved ones,
That dying would be a relief.
Not at your 25.
Not at Johanna’s 53.

In the remaining wake
Of the wedding that wasn’t,
I will never forget you.
Or, especially, Johanna.


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