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American Life in Poetry

by Ted Kooser

Loss can defeat us or serve as the impetus for positive change. Here, Sue Ellen Thompson of Connecticut shows us how to mourn inevitable changes, then go on to see the possibilities of new chapters in our lives.

No Children, No Pets

I bring the cat's body home from the vet's in a running-shoe box held shut with elastic bands. Then I clean the corners where she has eaten and slept, scrubbing the hard bits of food from the baseboard, dumping the litter and blasting the pan with a hose. The plastic dishes I hide in the basement, the pee- soaked towel I put in the trash. I put the catnip mouse in the box and I put the box away, too, in a deep dirt drawer in the earth.

When the death-energy leaves me,

I go to the room where my daughter slept in nursery school, grammar school, high school, I lie on her milky bedspread and think of the day I left her at college, how nothing could keep me from gouging the melted candle-wax out from between her floorboards, or taking a razor blade to the decal that said to the firemen, "Break this window first." I close my eyes now and enter a place that's clearly expecting me, swaddled in loss and then losing that, too, as I move from room to bone-white room in the house of the rest of my life.

Reprinted from "Nimrod International Journal: The Healing Arts," Vol. 49, No. 2, Spring-Summer, 2006, by permission of the author. Copyright (c) 2006 by Sue Ellen Thompson, whose latest book is "The Golden Hour," Autumn House Press, 2006. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

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