This poem sprung into my head nearly fully formed while I was mowing the lawn in September 2018. I had been reading poetry all summer, marinating myself in words until I was “drunk on poetry”— my favourite feeling. Once I’ve read myself to that point, my thoughts, experiences, and sensations form themselves into phrases that pour loudly into my mind. And there was a lot going on in my head that day! I had just left Montreal (my city! my beloved friends!) and was about to move to California to start graduate school. I was roaring with grief and optimism. Both colour the poem.
Two years later, “Grave” is a time capsule— a reminder of the many months that pass between writing, editing, submitting to journals, receiving an acceptance, and the journal actually publishing a piece. So much has changed…
“Grave” lunges into the future to predict what missing someone will feel like. A sort of pre-grief, if you will, the sort that bites you when you cradle your elderly cat. Now, I blanch to read lines like “let’s lose touch”, and the end of the poem, where I urge us to love “the people who are near to us” and find “new grace in graveless places”. I was newly 22 and giddy with hope, ready to fling myself to California and discover new love and friendship. Instead, I struggled with homesickness and found it difficult to make close connections.
Slowly, I’m finding new people, but it’s not “new grace” by any means. Every relationship is entirely its own, and does not replace older relationships. Two years after writing this poem, I’m less willing to let friends disappear. Especially during this pandemic— I’m clinging to those I love, keeping them close. At the same time, though, I have unwavering love and admiration for trans and queer people, and we really are everywhere. I’ve learned that I can hop continents if I need to, and find people I trust and love. So maybe there is still something to it, this idea of flinging yourself far away with confidence that new people will catch you on the other side.
I love playing with assonance and repetition, as you can see in “Grave”. Patterns of words like “graces, graves, Grace, grass” and “more, months, moss, marks”; repetitions of “softening” and “wearing” and “keeping”— it’s candy to me! I admire this deeply in other poems, and I definitely learned it from reading. Every word’s meaning is precisely appropriate, but the phonetic pronunciation also binds with other words in the poem to lend a sense of coherence. And I love playing with form, too— here, slicing through the enjambment after “Let’s lose touch, Grace”.
I’m working on a new poem, now, which is something of a follow-up to this one. This one is about fearing love, but somehow finding it anyway; it uses a Covid-19 metaphor of not trusting the air but still needing to breathe. There are lots of lovely words like “lungs, lunge, love”. It’s another time capsule, this time marked September 2020. Let’s see how it ages.
Aris Keshav is a poet, drag king, and linguist living between two Cambridges (Canada and England). Their poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly and Plenitude Magazine, and their essay is forthcoming in Canadian Notes & Queries.