Finest: Wendy Pratt – “Nine Years of Mourning”

Wendy Pratt Finest

Nine Years of Mourning

When my grief finally breaks
I shed the embarrassment
of mourning like a skin.

I have been sick with grief,
heavy with it, entombed by it
for so long I have atrophied
within it.

Unable to escape it, unwilling
to let her go again again again again
I treated grief as atonement,
punishment for her death.

Now I see
it was the perfect counter weight
for my love.

There is snap, a snip of umbilicus.
We slide apart. I step away.

Today I climb out of my skin;
my mourning dress. I am nude and white
as a stripped willow branch. I leave the dress behind;
stiff with the sweat of surviving.

I leave behind its brutal blacks,
its corset; so like the mouth
of a fledgling wanting more.
Only I know the comfort
of the pink inside of that dress.

It is time now. Now
I wish I’d not been embarrassed
by how long it took to say goodbye.

Now I wish I’d worn a great collar
of Whitby jet, and shaved my head
and walked on my knees mouthing ash
for nine years.

People might have understood that better.

It doesn’t matter. Here I am, lithe
as a witch-hare leaping out of a corpse,
catching the sun in my tawny coat.

“This is a poem from my new collection, When I Think of My Body as a Horse available from Smith|Doorstop.

“It’s a poem that features towards the end of the collection, and is a sort of answer to the poem below, which also features in the collection, and which was originally the title poem of my first published pamphlet with Prolebooks; sadly out of print now.

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare
in memory of M

I will tell you how it was.  I slipped
into the hare like a nude foot
into a glorious slipper.  Pushing her bones
to one side to make room for my shape
so I could settle like a child within her.
In the dark I groped for her freedom, gently teasing
it apart across my fingers to web across my palm.
Here is where our separation ends:
I tensed her legs with my arums, pushed my rhythm
down the stepping-stones of spine.  An odd feeling this,
to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg;
the aching jaw around her delicate self.  Her mind
was simple, full of open space and weather.
I warmed myself on her frantic pulse and felt the draw
of gorse and grass, the distant slate line
at the edge of the moor.  The air span diamonds
out of sea fret to catch across my tawny coat
as I began to fold the earth beneath my feet
and fly across the heath, the heather.

“The poem Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare has appeared in various anthologies, such as She is Fierce, and on BBC Radio Four’s Poetry Please. It’s the poem I’m most often asked to read at events. It was also the first poem I wrote after my daughter died during an emergency caesarean in April 2010. Nan Hardwicke is a poem about transformation, the witch/hare is a metaphor for pregnancy and for me, personally, it is a kind of journey marker, the gateway to a journey through grief. Nine Years Mourning is among a series of poems in the new collection which mark the end of that journey. When I Think of My Body as a Horse is a collection of poems which explore the instincts around motherhood and the instincts around grief, within the context of understanding and accepting what might be perceived as failures of the body, of my body. It touches on the perpetuation of feelings of shame versus sexuality on the bodies of women, by a society that is almost cultish about how the body appears; a society in which death, and in particular the loss of a baby or child, is still a bit of a taboo; especially if there is no rainbow baby to ensure a happy ending to the story. I wanted to explore a kind of alternative motherhood with When I Think of My Body as a Horse, I wanted to write something that looked at the overpowering instincts within grief and how that married up to the overwhelming instincts around motherhood, and I feel I have done that by using my own experience.

“The poem, Nine Years Mourning, is about the end of the grieving process which, for me, happened after my husband and I had accepted a childless future, and I had translated the complex grief of infertility, the loss of my daughter, the loss of our actual family and our potential family and also the loss of the ideal of motherhood (which included accepting a body that had ‘failed’ me) into a collection of poems. When I Think of My Body as a Horse is that collection. In the poem the narrator removes a mourning dress that has become something of a comfortable prison, and in the last few lines they leap out of the dress ‘like a witch hare’. The image of the ‘sun in my tawny coat’ is a direct reference to the Nan Hardwicke poem and the sea fret which catches on the witch hare’s tawny coat.

“The poems in When I Think of My Body as a Horse have yet to appear anywhere, the book launches in February, but is available to pre order on the Smith|Doorstop website. I hope that the story the poems tell is one of survival and of love, and the power of love in times of grief.”

Wendy Pratt is an award winning poet, author and workshop facilitator living on the North Yorkshire coast. She is the founder and editor in chief of Spelt Magazine, and poet in residence at the White Lodge Hotel in Filey. Her latest collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse won the 2020 Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award. She is the author of three full collections of poetry and two pamphlets and is currently working on a series of essays exploring the psychogeography of burial landscapes.

Spelt Magazine:
Twitter: @Wondykitten


One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Wendy Pratt Writing and commented:
    Huge thanks to ben for giving me the space to showcase this poem from the new collection, and to talk about how it references an earlier poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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