Muffled Drums and Heartbreak: A Gospel of Grief by Hakim Ballamy

Photo by  Victoria Siemer

Muffled Drums and Heartbreak: A Gospel of Grief

by hakim bellamy

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message

He is Dead.

                                                                                                                                         - W. H. Auden


You are not alone.
Grieving is perhaps
the most collective thing
we do.

The pageantry
and the pomp.
The circumstance
and ceremony.
There is nothing more human,
not even dying.

Communities aren’t born,
they are made.

Oftentimes, by a shared experience.
Learned norm by norm.

Soccer “moms” and country clubs,
VFWs and places of worship.

But when death is not the norm,
the learning curve feels steep enough
to jump off of.

Too overwhelming to climb
without a net,
without a rope,
without wings,
without a hand
to hold.

Especially, when the hand
you would normally hold,
in this very situation,
is currently
and permanently


In these circles,
we are careful to remove anything
that serves as a reminder,

like empty chairs.

As folks arrive,
they’ll grab a chair from the stack,
right beside the name tags,
and fill in.

We don’t trigger memories here,
we diffuse them.
Carefully untether red
and blue wiring
to keep the head
and heart

We do not have to detonate ourselves.
There’s a way to dance with the flashbacks,
as opposed to avoiding
the inevitability of them.

Like a head-on collision.

We apprentice
in the art of walking
away from the mushroom cloud,
in one piece.

And though it feels surreal,
there’s no magic involved.

There’s our reality,
as we know it,
before being bereaved.
The entirely different reality
that we step into
ever after.

A blink,
the only portal
between the dimensions
of yesterday
and tomorrow.

It’s maddening
to relieve one
of their sanity
and their spouse
on the same day.

It feels like robbery,
it feeds despair.

However, here
we specialize
in controlled demolitions.

So that the hollow
left inside
does not implode us
and take the entire neighborhood
in its wake.

Loss is just another four letter word
for love.

It does not have to be toxic.
We do not have to allow it
to eat us
from the inside out.


As far as customs go,
I think New Orleans does it right.
A second line
rather than a funeral procession.

A second life.
A celebration.

Less finish line,
more victory lap.

Even after the clock stops.

New Mexico is a close second.
Dia de Los Muertos,
an offering of remembrance.

Gentler than a wake
on the loved ones left behind.

Maybe, it’s just time.

The difference between then
and now,

between ancestor
and the recently deceased.

An altar
all by itself.

Wearing grandma’s perfume
and grandpa’s favorite food.

Tobacco and rum
because cancer may have taken his body
but not his spirit.

Maybe even a record.
Carolina Chocolate Drops’ “Leaving Eden”
Grandma’s favorite song.

These are the wishes
of the recently
and not so recently decreased.

An understanding
that we desperately need each other,
that the family still gathers
after they are gone.

And without their clout as convener,
a parade
or a grief center

will do just fine.


The house
feels a size too big
and it talks in its sleep.

                                             To me,
                                             when I’m awake,
                                             calling your name.

The TV won’t watch itself.
The dogs won’t feed themselves.
These meals won’t eat themselves.

And here I am,
trying to find
all the ways

to love myself
after you are gone.

Talking to myself
as though you are
still here.

And you are.

Telling me how to survive, you.
Telling me
that there is not enough room
in that coffin
for the both of us.

Telling me that help
is waiting
to do its job,
arms open.

Telling me
I’ll have to leave
this house
to find it.

To find you.

Acceptance (A Mandingo/Guinea Proverb)

when we lose a person
we find a tribe.

In a wilderness of woe,
trees silently falling
all around us.

Desperately in need
of a sound,
a sign
or someone
to corroborate all this silence.

This kind of grief
feels personal
and inevitable
at the same time.

Like a wet robe
everyone has to wear.

That we would wear
for another
if we could.

But we can’t.

We can only
summon the strength
to get dressed
and face the future.

Fill his and her shoes
with family
and friends.

Fill the void
with laughter,
as legacy
to a life well lived.

As gratitude
for the time granted,
as opposed to bemoaning
what was never hours
to begin with.

Healing all the wounds
on the inside,
that even time can’t fix.

Surviving the guilt
of surviving.

Making peace
with the idea
of our own deaths.

Yet waging war
against the dying
of those we love.

And ultimately

that war
only ends
one way.

© Hakim Bellamy September 15th, 2017

"I think that's a real part of grief that we sometimes aren't able to talk about and I think that poetry talks about perhaps better than anything else," Young tells NPR's Renee Montange. "It's able to capture a moment, a feeling, perhaps a fleeting feeling, and even make — as that poem does — music out of it." - Kevin Young


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