53 Comments
May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

This prompt brings up a memory in a new light. My life partner died in 2013. She had been dealing with Cancer for six years. As she grew weaker, dying, I realized, as her full-time ''care-giver" that we had yet to talk about dying and death. In her own way, she was so determined to live, making plans for the next phase of her life, as soon as she was stronger, that I could only support her in this planning. We never did talk about dying and death. So, maybe what I am describing is not a true triangulation. My partner was in a rehab, originally to regain strength and receive physical therapy. However, as each day passed, it became clear to me that she was, in fact, dying. I spoke to a nurse who often visited my partner, bringing her freshly baked treats. The nurse suggested that if she didn't wish to talk about dying and death, be with her as she wished to be. So, I did things like go on line and order new clothes for when she was ready to take on whatever was her next life plan. I struggled with the difference between what I saw and felt, and my beloved's wishes. Yet, I kept supporting her. A few days before her final week on this Earth, a dear friend visited her and gently, clearly said, "I think you are dying. Would you consider going home, with hospice care?" Our friend told me later that my beloved had tears in her eyes, recognizing that, yes, she was dying. On my own I had been reaching out to the oncologist, who hadn't visited for weeks. I told him that I thought she was dying, and would he be able to visit? His response was to suggest we travel by health-care van to visit his office. We did, and this led to an immediate response from the oncologist: " let's get her upstairs to the oncology floor of the hospital." She was by now too fragile to travel home. This was her final week. She died surrounded by friends, beautiful harp music, angelic singing, and a few of us toning. She died with a smile on her face. We had this final week prepared to bring her body home for a 3-day vigil. A living room filled with flowers, and time for friends and family to visit and say goodbye. Remember that dress I ordered online? She wore this for the vigil, and eventual journey to be cremated.

I sometimes find myself wishing I had brought up talking about dying and death earlier. That we could have shared this conversation together. However, there was a quiet, almost secret wisdom in that nurse's suggestion, "care for her as she wishes to live, bring her delicious treats, and be with her on her path." The three day vigil: all day visits from friends and family. In the evening, alone with her, I would read to her, beloved children's stories, sing, play the piano, read poems, and cry. We are still together, in a special, different way.

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May 16·edited May 16

I think many of us may have visions of how we think we want to die or someone else should die, but at these deepest moments of our lives, it may be most important to take the lead from whoever is going through the experience. Isn't that the ultimate self-determination, no matter how weak a person may be? It isn't easy and from what I have seen and experienced, regrets are unavoidable no matter which way it all goes. Regrets can be a beautiful thing even as they tear at us. Regrets are proof we wish we could have done everything for our loved one because our love was unlimited, even while we are in fact, limited.

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Reading your precious story, I somehow feel closer in understanding of Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I could not stop for Death.” Your story seems to show you “shared” the “conversation” about death in a most delicate and beautiful way.

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Goodness, David-this is beautiful. Yes to the "secret wisdom" of the nurse and yes to the generous ways you tended to your love in her final days. Thank you for sharing🙏❤️.

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Thank you David for such a poignant, beautiful reflection! Perhaps, in hindsight, the suggestion of the nurse was providential. You are a good man.

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Dear David, This dying business is all so very complicated. I have tears in my eyes as I think of you, your care, of the dress, of trying to ease the journey. The care-giver also has needs. I wonder what it would be like if we could talk about death, our own, not in general. With the passage of time, I hope that you have ease in the tender loving care you gave. A beautiful offering, thank you.

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David, thank you, deeply, for this beautiful, vulnerable, and heartfelt share. While I think it is important to have discussions with our loved ones who are walking that road home, I think it is even more critical to listen to their wants and desires. That you supported her says everything. In that manner, you made her walk home all the more sweeter and lovely, ending it beautifully. Just a very quiet "thank you" for what you did and the lovely way you did it!! XO

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

It was great getting to chat with you a bit after your lecture on Tuesday, Pádraig.

Your question brings to mind an experience I had recently. After I moved to Pittsburgh in 2020, I would often pass one of my neighbors while walking: a gruff man with big glasses and a bigger scowl. I found him to be intimidating and even somewhat threatening at times. He always seemed angry and would often raise his fist and mutter or shout at folks (myself included). I wondered (but had no real idea) if any of his attitude or behavior toward me was homophobic in nature. Regardless, for years whenever I saw him I'd steer clear, just to be safe.

This past November I attended a presentation about suicide prevention put on in my neighborhood by a local social worker. I've experienced suicidality and suicidal ideation, so it's something I care quite a lot about personally, professionally, artistically. The presentation was in the evening and I was exhausted from work, so I almost didn't go, but I did. And to my initial discomfort I found that the only other attendee aside from myself was the man with the big glasses.

Over the course of the presentation, which included a fair amount of interaction and Q&A, I listened closely -- and in a kind of awe -- as this man shared that he was attending this presentation because he'd had friends and family members try to kill themselves before, and he wanted to learn how he could help them.

And my awe was less at this man or what he said, and more at my own dawning warmth and sense of connection to him. All the fear I'd felt toward him dissolved, and I felt this shame at all the energy I'd expended avoiding him on the sidewalk, but even my shame started to dissolve in the face of my emerging appreciation of his vulnerability and his humanity.

After the presentation I wiped the tears from my eyes and introduced myself to him. I learned his name. I shook his hand. And now whenever I see him, no matter how gruff or angry he looks (and he does!), I always wave and greet him by name.

I think what I treasure about this experience isn't just that it was healing, but that the salve for this extreme tension I felt was our shared interest in facing something as dark and difficult as suicide head-on. Suicide, for me, is a profound symbol of despair and disconnection. The fact that it led to this bridge between this man and myself -- a kind of connection, a kind of hope -- serves as such a potent reminder to me. To try to be kind. To try to see humanity even when it might not feel safe. To leave some room for something like grace.

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Remarkable story! Sometimes, we never really never know what may be going on in someone else’s life. Thanks for the sharing, Adam.

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Beautiful! I love this story! Everything about it is wonderful. Thank you for sharing it!! XO

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Just beautiful, Adam. Thank you for sharing. 😌

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What a beautiful story! So brave of you to attend and then to stay and to listen, not only listen but hear beyond the words, beyond the facade. May we all show up and listen deeply. Thank you.

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May 16·edited May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Hi Pádraig, I never knew there was a formal concept, ‘triangulation’ for the experience I often felt between myself, my mother and my daughter, especially when my daughter was young. I mostly struggled in my relationship with my mother. Craving something she couldn’t give, or not being able to receive her giving, cause I had so much piss in me.

So my daughter comes along, amidst my youth, my divorce and single parenting. I discover I am able to view my mother’s uncommon care, her delight and her skills of love, not for me, but for my daughter. I needed another, a buffer, a go between, a pause - in the shape of a little girl, to see the beauty and depth of kindness in my mother and the unfiltered joy in reception from my daughter. It warms me to all my cold corners.

I still have a bit of piss toward my mother, even now that she has passed away, but I can feel deep love for her when my daughter was in the room. I don’t know who is A, B or C in this formula, but, with your hand holding, I have a sense of what Jericho is communicating through his poem.

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You identify a true “in-sight” here. Thanks, Toby.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

A few years back my Mom had gone to the hospital for a relatively “routine” medical procedure (cardiac ablation to treat a persistent atrial fibrillation), and due to an error made by the surgeon, my mom nearly lost her life (cardiac tamponade). She survived 🙏🏾 but was in the ICU for weeks, and in recovery for many months. In the first week of this, when it was still touch and go, i remember saying to a friend “wow - everything is so peaceful with my siblings.” no tones of resentment or defense or discord… only tones of deep genuine care, thoughtfulness, mutual consideration, shared love, and a kind of transformational generosity.

I remember one time after being the hospital for X hours, my brother called, telling me “you should come home and sleep” and when I insisted I was fine and would stay there, he repeated his offer to bring me food or anything I needed and thus time, I decided to say yes - itself a crossing - and gave him the very specific instructions to make my morning beverage, “2 ounces of cold brew, with 6 ounces of oat milk and could you please heat it up?” “sure, how long?” “one minute thirty seconds” and “what cup do you want it in?” and “oh, can you put a half teaspoon of manuka honey in it?” “sure. anything else?” “no, I’m good.” “oh actually if you don’t mind, could you bring me some arnica gel, and….” “sure. anything else?” “no I think that’s it.” “if you think of anything else, just let me know. and if you want anything later I can just come back.”

It was like that. Ordinary. Caring. Loving.

Just as the speaker in Jericho Brown’s powerful poem was able to retain a sense of power, as you insightfully pointed out Pádraig, my Mom in this instance of “near death” brought her 3 children together - speaking and relating to each other with mutual consideration and care and love, in a way that I imagine any “good enough parent” would want their children to be with each other.

(of course this was temporary. all of it! as everything is. but remembering it , amplifying this memory, strengthens the sense and trust in what’s possible. maybe, what’s already always also here).

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

I am so touched by your description of your family coming together in shared love for your mother. Also, the offering of the coffee--how your brother listened to your need and strived to follow your directions in order to make it just right--really got me!

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thank you for reading and your kind words, Shelly. ❤️

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A beautifully descriptive remembrance. Yes, the capacity of what is possible for us human beings. Thanks for your post, Mona!

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Thank you for reading and your kind words, Michael!

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

This poem. Jericho Brown. Just wow. I am thinking in this moment about broken families. The upcoming wedding of my eldest niece. The parents who will be coming together to celebrate her who have not been in a room together for a long time. I know the pain my sister suffered that she will transcend for this occasion where love is centered and central. Sometimes the people farthest apart are also the ones who have made other people together and are therefore bound for life.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

That your family can manage to put love in the center matters so much. I hope your family’s experience will be full of healthy/good and treasured moments.

I have experienced this in my own family too. Although I felt much dread, love made me do it, despite my fear and trembling. And afterwards, after the family get togethers that are much easier now, I usually feel it was worth it. My love for my kids is a centering force in my life, for sure, despite the difficulties of divorce.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Thank you Shelly 🙏❤️

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

This is my first time here and I wanted to share what I wrote to record this moment for myself: Listening to an Irish poet (Padraig O Tuama) read and tease apart “Hebrews 13” by Jericho Brown. The poem itself is so impossibly beautiful and so is the care in which the other poet reads it and unpacks it. So much love expressed in both cases that I now have tears streaming down my cheeks. So this is the power of words.

I had the link delivered to my inbox because yesterday I signed up for a substack group about fairy tales, as I was considering submitting an essay to them to consider for publication. They offered these other things, and although I thought it would just be more inbox clutter for me to ignore, I clicked yes to those subscriptions as well, for some reason. Then today, before getting ready to go to work, I decided to see what this one email held. Who knew it would be a deep and touching experience of beauty and love? I certainly did not expect it. I am grateful to have been guided to it. I think the reason I clicked it was because Jericho Brown just put out an anthology of Reginald Shepherd’s poetry, which I had taken out from the library to try to catch up and retroactively appreciate Reggie’s talent. There was powerful poetry in that anthology, but it also struck me how important Reggie’s work had been to Jericho Brown, and I like the words he spoke about Reggie and his poetry and why he was doing the anthology. So, one thing leads to another, and sometimes you end up where you are meant to be for a moment. Sitting still and listening, heart broken open and spellbound, in the midst of a regular day.

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Your words “for some reason.” Serendipitous. The ways of grace. Thank you, Jordan, for your thoughtful and thought-provoking comments.

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Michael, thank you for this. I wrote you a couple of days but I guess I wasn’t fully signed in at that time and my reply didn’t “take”. I’m so excited to have found this space.

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Your last sentence is a perfect description of Poetry Unbound. Welcome!

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Thank you, Mandy. I’m so grateful to have found this space, and I love what is being said by all of you.

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Welcome, Jordan, and thank you for posting because I didn't know about that new anthology. I used to follow Shepherd's blogspot years ago when so many poets kept blogs. A gifted voice gone too soon.

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definitely gone too soon.

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What a poem! In this pithy poem, Jericho Brown evoked vivid feeling in me by his basic, yet potent images — “like wind in an early winter” — “coffee blacker than their hands which shivered” —“they drank with a speed that must have burned their tongues” — “who only wished to be warm again like two worn copies of a holy book.” The desire to do the right thing — to do the loving thing — can restore broken relationships.

A few years back while teaching a class on prejudice and racism, I inadvertently said something that offended one of my students — and she let me know about it later that day through an email. Initially, I was defensive (I was thinking: “it wasn’t my intention to offend you — I was trying to convey this message”). However, upon further reflection, and with the help of a friend, I decided to respond to the student by first and foremost listening to her and acknowledging her feelings. After this, I explained the intention behind my words that offended her in class — and, I believe, she was able to receive my explanation. This breakdown of communication led to a breakthrough in our relationship.

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So much better and blessing (beannacht) too when it is shared care rather than shared dislike. A woman who doesn’t particular care for my oft times nonsensical “clownish” behavior chooses most times to ignore me or in worse cases give me looks that could wipe out a neighborhood, nevertheless became a smiling partner in care for a younger couple expecting their first child.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Thank you for this and so many of the short bursts of love and insight that you voice to us. This poem, the comments on substack, your comments in the podcast, all touch me deeply. Shared love does bridge difference though the burning of the coffee drunk too quickly, in awkward silent tension that causes one to vibrate (hum), the shared love still burns. ... I appreciate the moments when you name your experience, in this case, of shame, and tell us the context of the poem, it's title (I don't know Hebrews 13) and that the writer is Black, gay, HIV+ (though we know the hands of the brother's and lover's are black, and lover, so often code for a queer love)). These bits of their lives, the New Testament, the possibility that we might unknowingly be offering coffee, warmth, to an angel, all resonate with me. Namaste.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

The power of love expressed in this poem comes through in that both care so much for the speaker.

The speaker loves them both. Each loves the speaker. The brotherly love and that between lovers is different but neither can be denied.

But the threat to each has chilled to the bone like an “early winter”—colder because the cold has shocked the system. They were not prepared for it.

Each then finds the other in close proximity through trying to find warmth—in this case, their mutual concern for the speaker’s trouble—against the cold which threatens to break off each of the equally strong but different types of loving relationships.

That shock to the 3 of them could have been the speaker’s life-threatening news. Looking back (the speaker dared not name the shocking memory), it is the memory of how love literally changed the weather that is treasured. I imagine the sensory experience of it lives on, the memory mythical in its power. The poem is a testimony to having witnessed the sheer and incredible power of love. That it can literally bring life from out of death.

Let it be in all places war torn today. Let it be for the lovers, mothers and fathers and children that the power of love rains down.

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“Triangulation based on love and concern”

The word that comes to my mind is compassion.

Compassion begins with empathy, then moves beyond that

with an intentional desire to act,

perhaps with the intensity of wind in an early winter

or regardless of an awkward thin silence.

May we all entertain strangers motivated by Love and concern,

rather than mutual hatred and anger.

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Succinct and well-stated. Appreciate your thoughts, Nancy.

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May 16·edited May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

When I first read triangulation the word strangulation kept going through my head. That may be my own issue for a therapy session but it led me to my association to triangulation

My husband is estranged from his mother. (Estranged, strangulation?) For good reason. She did something unremorsefully despicable and unwarranted towards him that was the straw that broke the camel's back. This affected our relationship with his sister because his mother poisoned his sister towards us. Howard didn't respect his sister much because he saw her as babied and spoiled and had made some unfortunate choices growing up that resulted in a lot of pain around divorces and her 2 sons. But in recent years she developed a relationship with a guy who I originally judged as not savory and thought this would be more of the same for her unfortunate life patterns which were self-destructive and included dishonesty. He was also into a lot of new age spirituality stuff that appeared to me to be of the kind that is shallow and props up someone as a guru, but not authentic. Well I was wrong. From the start they went to lots of spirituality retreats and practice "religion" in a way that is alien to me, but it has worked wonders in their lives. They told us they had realized they both had made many mistakes in the past including listening to her mother about us. I have watched over these last years as they have reached out consistently to their own children from their previous marriages and now engaged with a grandchild in ways that are rather breathtaking to see. Ilene had long avoided coming to see us with our twins with significant disabilities and over the last several years, somewhat awkwardly but steadily, began coming here more routinely and for more days at a time. I can see the comfort developing with our children in ways I never would have imagined. They don't live close by but that doesn't matter. One joyful smile with our son Jack or one round of a whipped cream fight while eating homemade blueberry pie together makes a world of difference that lasts long between visits. And they have a date to come back this September. Sometimes, if we are lucky and open and open-hearted to loving effort no matter the form it takes, the coffee may actually warm things up and the thin silence breaks open. We can become less strangers to each other. Less estranged. What a beautiful poem.

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The stories shared here are moving in the very fact that each person is or has been person C. How brave to respond and And thank you.

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To each of you who responded: you're very brave in sharing your stories and helping us understand the characteristics of various Person Cs

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I admit it. I am quickly loosing understanding of how digital media works and ever grateful to be able to access Poetry Unbound and On Being

I have no idea what a substack or a restack is and seem to have downloaded some new app. None the less Poetry Unbound is a staple in my life. Thank you.

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May 16Liked by Pádraig Ó Tuama

Such a moving piece. Thanks for introducing me to this poet. Pairing it with the New Testament text makes me wonder - who might be the angel.

I often find myself in triangle relationships of another sort. I am the third who is brought in to be an intermediary between the two. A basic form of this is “Will you tell ______ that I’m not talking to him/her?” Which then goes back and forth with both sides trying to keep me on their side. Awkward and painful.

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Maybe they are all angels? I like your thought.

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