From “Grief Songs: for my wife Adelle

by Jack Foley

From “Grief Songs: for my wife Adelle
(August 15, 1940 — June 27, 2016)”

“Grief ”for me seems to be a sort of nervous breakdown in which the forces of life and death play themselves out in the most intense fashion.  Three or four attacks a day: meltdowns. You can do nothing but wail and weep.  And then, it’s over; I can go on with my “normal” life.  Such forces (life vs. death) probably exist all the time in everyone — Freud speaks of a “death instinct”  — but the experience of grief causes them to intensify to an extraordinary degree.  A friend’s perception that I’m living in two worlds seems accurate.

1. MAY 2016

as we are now
here we are
not at some future
on this late may
time at this
you who are never
as we deal with
all the
are suddenly
with something
the moment
and need
as we are now

to the moment
grips me
as it
and the lack
of knowledge
prayer is not
as it
an option
we maintain
as best we can
our rituals


How do you come back to life
When someone close to you
Someone who is you —
A wife, a sister —
Is suddenly gone.
“Don’t forget to bring the dearth certificate,”
A friend accidentally wrote:
He called it, accurately, a dearth, an absence, a loss
But it is more than that:
It is a diminution
That draws us into its darkness.
The struggle of the other’s dearth
Is also the knowledge of our own
Our own diminishment
Until we wish to be the
Our loved one has become: smoke, vapor.
When my wife died,
I walked through my kitchen
And saying, “I want to die.”
I know she would have never wished that for me
And yet
The strength of death — its lure —
Was that strong.
Our love, our happy life together
Brought to a sudden end —
My wife, your sister.
Why do ghosts
Rattle chains and frighten strangers?
Let them return
To where they will be loved and appreciated.
Let them live in our hearts.
Look: the house still has your scent in it;
Your clothing hangs in the closet!
Dear Maw,
Let us both
Try to bear the unbearable,
Try to live
In a world which has taken the dearest thing to us
And destroyed it, though we knew
From the beginning that that was possible,
That death was the price of life.
But we know it now
In a way that is different from what we knew.


Comes crowding in on me
Presents, well wishes
From dear friends
From people I don’t know
All in the shadow
Of the death of my dearest
Who would never have missed my birthday.
My love for her
Circles around the house
We shared for more than forty years.
She is still here
Even in her deep absence.
I have plans
For her birthday (6 days away)
Which our son has designated “a nice wake.”
Thanks to the human hearts
Which have opened to me in my sorrow.
Life is forever changed
But, as everyone says to me, goes on.
I am writing choral pieces
Which do not replace but remember her.
I am working with a new person
Who respects the work
Adelle and I did for more than thirty years.
Death is a visitor to this wonderful birthday party
(As in a way he is to all birthday parties)
But life is here too
In the friends, the love, the presents
In the voices of my son and daughter in law
Who sang happy birthday to me
Moments after I awoke
To say hello to my 76 years
On this difficult, love-struck planet.
Thank you to all the visitors,
Even the shadowy one.
I welcome him too
Though it costs me my heart.

4. AUGUST 15, 2016

It’s your birthday
My dear, dead love
I had begun a birthday poem
My wife
My life
And had already bought some gifts for you
A Monday — Moon Day
“Looney” in our Dellwackian fantasy
Who paired with the tiny sun,
“Salvador Dully”
You made a cartoon for me
Eight days before your death
(Six before the day
You forever lost consciousness)
I am trying to find
Another life to fit me
But what could ever fit me
So well as the life we made
As Moon and Sun
As Dell Dell and Jack Wack
As the EEE Monster
And the ODD Monster
As all the phantasmagoria
That rose out of our love,
That kept our love
Forever alive:
They never stopped loving
Even when you and I faltered
They wondered why Dellwackia
Suddenly looked
Like a hospital room.
I’ve cooked dinner for you tonight
Polpette, purpettes,
A meal you loved
That came from my mother’s
Long Calabrese line.
Dear friends will join me
And then we’ll watch
A favorite film:
Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent
Looney and Salvador Dully
Will watch it too
And Dell Dell and Jack Wack
And the Monsters.
Everyone loves
The poems I’ve been writing
About your death
You were always my Muse
And today is the birthday
You could not celebrate.
Our love remains
In all these figures
In all these words
While you
Whirl through the universe
(If such things are true)
Forgetting birth and death
Forgetting Dellwackia and me
Remembering only
The deep configurations
Of Life and Love.

The names mentioned are cartoon characters in a joint fantasy that Adelle and I maintained for years.  She was Dell Dell — a name her father gave to her when she was a child.  I, “J.W. Foley,” was Jack Wack.   The DDD Monster and the EEE Monster, etc. all figured into this fantasy, which took place in a country named for the king and queen: Dellwackia.

5. August 23, 2016

It’s been nearly two months
It’s been nearly two months
Since your death.
Since your death.
People tell me
People tell me
It gets better
It gets better
With time.
With time.
But it hasn’t gotten
But it hasn’t gotten
Your clothes still hang
Your clothes still hang
Where you left them;
Where you left them;
The blue robe
The blue robe
Is still where you tossed it
Is still where you tossed it
When we went to the hospital;
When we went to the hospital;
Your car
Your car
Is parked where you always parked it.
Is parked where you always parked it.
My little game
My little game
Of pretending you’re still alive
Of pretending you’re still alive
Is exposed as the lie it is
Is exposed as the lie it is
At every moment.
At every moment.
Yet I keep
Yet I keep
And can’t disturb
And can’t disturb
What you left behind.
What you left behind.
I live amid
I live amid
The numinous
The numinous
The falseness
The falseness
Of this world I hold
Of this world I hold
In Sacris,
In Sacris,
The fiction.
The fiction.

. . .

We did everything together.
You died.  Shouldn’t I die too?

you, two months dead

we didn’t know
it would be the last time
we would see each other
neither of us knew:
it was only a procedure
something that might work
to make her feel a little better
didn’t know that these
would be the last conscious words
she would ever hear from me
(squeezing her toes):
“I’ll be back in an hour, honey.
See you then.      Love you.”