Friday, December 18, 2015

The Holiday Of Death

The Holiday Of Death

On her wedding day night
she took off her white dress.
In the morning she cut it
into square piece on piece, took up
her needle while a bird sang
outside her shut window.

There was nothing she could do
to cheat the day she'd die
coming with the first child, or the fifth,
or the winter gone damp in her lungs,
the summer miasma out of the swamp,
or the cut half-cleaned gone rotten.

She began sewing her shroud,
on that first wedded day,
a duty she had, to be laid away
neat as a rose tight in white bud
though her skin grew rough, though her blood
too often ran red down her leg.

She hummed as she sewed
in the dim light she found
when the work of a dozen hours was done.
She stroked her shroud-dress, felt the holes
in the lace, the soft trapped space where beauty
was circled with a terminal grace.

When the night came
that death slipped in,
she sighed on her bed,
turned her face from her kin,
who'd finish for her the last hem stitch,
for she was on holiday from here on in.

~December 2015

posted for   real toads

Images: The Happy Day, 1892, by Joaquin Sorolla (Detail) Public domain via
Effigy of a Young Woman, unknown graveyard, unknown source, via internet.


  1. This is such a fascinating account of womanhood, the value of a life spent in service of others, and the only task for herself, preparing for death. It is moving and carries the weight of authenticity. Both pictures you chose are incredibly powerful too.

    1. Thank you Kerry, and thanks for the challenge. I have been wanting to use the bottom one for a long time.

  2. This is superb.. The bride dress made into a shroud. Indeed life for women where so dangerous at one point.. The stanza about death at her first or fifth childbirth made her destiny very very clear..

  3. Yes. Very beautiful. It reminds me a little --though it's really a much less cynical kind of poem--of my father's wedding by Bly. This very different honestly, but you might like that poem after writing this one. Just lovely, Joy. I especially like the line about the small trapped space circled by the terminal space and the square on square cut--since there is a trappedness about it all, a claustrophobia, and so much duty and boundedness, and yet there is also a circular and terminal grace of acceptance and even stitching one's own seams that is just lovely. A difference between Bly 's more cynical view, I think, and this one is the fact that it's by and about a woman and so a very different kind of acceptance goes on. Also super musical. Thanks. k.

    1. Thank you, k--I have not read a lot of Bly--thanks for sending me the poem. It is a great one. I think humans have to find a place, have to make it their own, for good or ill, and that without it there is no comfort from the trials life brings.

  4. I hope you won't misunderstand me when I say that, as i was reading, I forgot that someone I know had written it. I was actually surprised to finish it and find that it wasn't written by some famous name. It flows so well, both in sound and in story, that it's masterful.

    1. Not at all--I often get caught in a sort of archaic style--and I deeply appreciate the compliment.

  5. From the moment we are born we begin to die. I would say this is a lady who knows that truth. She, in her unselfishness, is trying in her own way to make her death, whenever it comes, to be easier for the loved ones she leaves behind.

    What a very wonderful write, showcasing your talent.

  6. Yeah, I can see Bly's "My Father's Wedding" in the rafters of this, among the cobwebs and rusted nails of old familial abuse, albeit told contra-sexually ... There's bondage in the sampler, the rites of marriage sewn into a woman's life with an iron thread. So the wedding dress of white eros is ripped and re-woven into the shroud of thantaos; the arc to me is natural, that once we grow up start we growing old. Maybe there's a bit of the tangled brake-witch's voice here, a wyrd word of warning to those so eager to throw maidenhood away for tortures of the iron-clad maid. Against the violence of plains cultural love. The time machine shows when time stopped for a woman of this elder age, and when the time was again free. Simply, plainly, tautly, ferociously told.

    1. Karin sent me the text of "My Father's Wedding' and I can only say it's very flattering to have any writing of mine compared to such a complex and visceral write, one that probes far deeper into the tangle of roles and relationships than this little snapshot of mine--I had not read it before, but I do get the comparison. Thanks very much, B., for your insights.

  7. This was so bittersweet. The fate of our sex tied with lace and needle and thread. The sewing up of, the ripping out of, the need to have the hands busy from sun up to sun down. Surely, for her, death was a holiday! You just keep knocking my sock off!

  8. Your poem is splendid, this I know.

  9. Yes, as Shay said, masterful. What a story of the reality of womanhood, especially in years when the physical labor was so harsh. A fantastic write. It drew me completely in.

  10. It made me think a lot of the Horse in Animal Farm, with his motto, "I will work harder." The woman's will, but the tragedy of her life is eloquently expressed.

  11. Ah. A new favorite, Hedge - the imagery and conceit are indeed superb. This timeless tableaux is woven from another age, when we still connected death to life rather than turning aging and eventual demise into the enemy. ~


"We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, out of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry." ~William Butler Yeats