The Form in the Grass


A Message from the Wanderer

Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occured to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations—
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as—often, in light, on the open hills—
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then—even before you see—
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That’s the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now—these few more words, and then I’m
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way—
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

–– William E. Stafford

Last week my brother Tom passed away after a 13 month battle with cancer. My enormous and sprawling family gathered earlier this week to remember his life. The hole he left will never disappear. You just settle in next to the hole, and every day you remember that it used to be filled with an outrageously alive, hysterically comedic, rascally rule breaking force of nature. In the words of Anne Lamott, master of how to live with loss:

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly, that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

Limping along as we are, we also know that nothing stays the same. Groundlessness is life. Flying into Salt Lake, a drought-shrunken Great Salt Lake no longer keeps the shoreline where my partner David’s grandfather could swim from Tooele to Antelope Island. My childhood haunts in Layton and Bountiful are mostly paved over and suburbified. But Stafford helps. It is that form in the grass, as he has written, that thing you cannot see at first but can feel. But then you do see. Then you do get the image.

I believe that comes later.

17 Replies to “The Form in the Grass”

  1. Having recently lost my husband, I felt William Stafford speaking directly to me of so much I have been pondering; how the body fights to stay in it’s prison when the spirit yearns to be free, how we keep ourselves locked up in so many ways because we don’t see clearly, because we can’t see clearly, and how we have relatives in our prisons but also the ones outside, waiting for us.

    My heart goes out to you, dear Deborah.

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      Thank you for this Dara. I am so moved by your words. I recognize those that know when they speak as you do. My heart goes with you too.

  2. Ed Carrigan says:

    Thank you, Deborah! This is beautiful.

  3. Thank you. What a powerful poem it is
    to bring tears!

  4. Deborah – I sensed from afar that something huge was shifting in your life. My sleeve is wet. I hold you in my heart. x

    1. deborahbarlow says:

      I don’t doubt that you picked up what a difficult passage I have been going through with the loss of my beloved brother. Thank you for sensing that and staying in touch with me. I hold you in my heart as well dear friend.

  5. liz razovich says:

    Oh Deb… My heart is with yours..I love you my dear Deborah..

  6. Carol McGarry says:

    Deb, this is such a lovely tribute to your brother. So I want to share another piece of poetry. Ten years after my mother passed away, my family gathered at her grave and my sister read this passage from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself.

    I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
    I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.
    I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
    If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
    You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
    But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
    And filter and fibre your blood.
    Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
    Missing me one place search another,
    I stop somewhere waiting for you.

    Your brother’s love will always be with you. Be well. – Carol

  7. Deborah, You have not yet realized that as you came to Salt Lake from Boston, you brought an extra bag. I could call you and tell you you left it here with me, but I do believe that everywhere you visited, people think you left that bag with them, as well. The bag was filled with bits of yourself. It contained your experiences shared, your acquaintances renewed, your special manner of giving to others while they think they are comforting you! It also contained bits of pure memory which you were able to pull out and share with each of us. I don’t know how you do it, but everyone here thinks that you are their special aunt, sister, niece, and that they are your favorite! So, as usual you came to bond, to grieve, to share, and what happened is that you lifted each of us before we could even begin to offer comfort to you. How do you do that?

    It is one of your gifts – a cosmic propensity for reaching out to those whom you perceive as needy, and then leaving them comforted and asking themselves how it is that they are your favorite person.

    We learn so much as we visit. We must keep the airways open and thriving and filled with things which are good or even great.

    So your bag is bottomless, and we shall look forward to our next visit!

    A thousand thank-yous!


  8. yesterday two friends of mine, too, dissolved back into the emptiness… sail on!… my condolences, and thank you for this wondrous blog

  9. Thank you for these words Deborah. I’m so sorry to hear about the death of your brother, may the things he taught you about life continue to find expression.

  10. Diane Kellogg says:

    A touching tribute to your brother, Deborah. My thoughts are with you as you mourn this sad passing.

  11. Dearest Deborah, I am so, so sorry for your loss. May your warm, humorous and loving memories of your dear Tom help fill the spaces in your heart and your life that his leaving you behind has made.

  12. Oh, Deborah, my heart goes out to you, as I know too well the loss of a brother, also to cancer. Stafford’s words have a comfort I cannot articulate, and Lamott gets it right: we always ever after “dance with a limp” but we do dance again. May Tom be forever at peace and you and yours carry your love for him in your hearts forever.

  13. George Wingate says:

    In beauty there is sometimes hope and comfort. Your images, in word and photo, and Stafford’s: hopeful and comforting.

    We are so much in the air. Gravity and, indeed, the floor are only part of reality.

    I am sorry for your loss and I am happy that you do have that large and sprawling family to dissipate your family’s and your grief to and to hold each other close.

  14. Your description of the Great Salt Lake — so fitting to the circumstances; thank you for sharing a few of your memories here, Deborah.

    Poetry is a valuable companion in grief as in many situations. Not so much for comfort as for the acknowledgment of our shared human condition. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, and I am thinking of you.

  15. In sympathy. Thank you for Mr Stafford’s poem. I believe in that “form in the grass”.

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