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Grief in Polite Society

by Margaret Donovan Bauer

I envy the unrestrained wails of a baby
in the back of the plane.
How short a time we have
to express ourselves so honestly.

Pain, hunger,
frustration with confinement,
but not grief—not yet.
The baby is too young for that.

Once old enough for
the grief of real loss,
whatever age that is,
we are too old to wail.

We are allowed only that first howl
when the news comes.
But then we tell ourselves (and are told),
Suck it up.

We remember when the dog (cat) died
“Big girls (boys) don’t cry”
or “We’ll get you another one”

and the first time our heart is broken,
“Don’t let him (her) see you cry”
or “There are more fish in the sea.”

We learn to subdue
expressions of pain
after that first unguarded wail.
And then

When true grief comes,
we howl
before we pull ourselves together and
suck it up.

A native of south Louisiana, Margaret Donovan Bauer is the Rives Chair of Southern Literature and Distinguished Professor of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. In 2017, she received the North Carolina Award for Literature for her two decades as editor of the North Carolina Literary Review. She is also the author of four books on Southern writers, most recently A Study of Scarletts: Scarlett O’Hara’s Literary Daughters, but since that book, she has turned to writing a memoir about growing up in deep south Louisiana. Read her short story previously published in Deep South here.

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1 COMMENT
  • HELEN T HEBERT / April 5, 2021

    Awesome as always!

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