we breathe you out into the air

you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,
     each set of lungs, those rosy implanted wings, pink balloons.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.

Mary Karr, Suicide’s Note: An annual

There are no words for when someone takes their own life. And you’d think we would invest in finding some, given the alarming frequency with which it occurs. Since 2011, the suicide rate has outpaced the homicide rate in Americans ages 10 to 24.

Mary Karr’s Suicide’s Note: An Annual is the classic twenty-first century poem. If Auden’s Dichtung and Wahrheit captures the I – Thou quivering in the modern-quickly-becoming-postmodern-world, Karr captures the raw grief of living in a harsh digital world—a grief too many people feel—mourning a suicide.

There’s no theorizing to do, and she doesn’t do it. The poem walks on a journey of anger, lashing out, frustration, pain, musing, searching for God in all of this and wondering if the subject (in Karr’s case, David Foster Wallace, a former love) did the same. It winds through the spirals of grief (if only they were limited to seven stages) and arrives, exhausted, at the end, where she can say something so inspired and true, coming from a core deeper than herself.

you are every second
alive in a hard-gnawing way for all who breathed you deeply in,

the line break between second and alive is heartbreaking and honest. You are every second dead, the reader would expect from such a poem, but he is alive, in a way that describes how painful the dichotomy between his early death and the life he has within those who loved him is born by those who bear his memory, who breathed him deeply in. Because we do not breathe in a vacuum, our lives and breaths are made up of other people. One death is not the death of them alone, but a death of them in us, and yet their memory, their life lived in our lives continues living, because we live.

Her final line is, I think, the perfect marriage of poetry and prayer—poetry that gives us the words our prayers could not.
          We sigh you out into air and watch you rise like rain.

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