I read Gabriel: A Poem by Edward Hirsch in one sitting.
I also found this New Yorker article in which Hirsch speaks about his loss and the genesis of the poem.
The front jacket says this:
Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch's heart to our own, without sentimentality....Hirsch's account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief....Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer's act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.I agree.
Hirsch chose to write this tribute of his son's life and simultaneous exploration of grief in three-line stanzas without any punctuation, not even a period at the end. It is highly accessible, even to a poetry novice like me.
While the poem is not divided into sections, it reads as though it were. For example, I did not read the section that went into detail about Gabriel's autopsy report as I could not, and still have not read our son's report. It stays folded in the envelope from the coroner's office in a large trunk which sits in our family room, holding Josh's keepsakes.
Below are the stanzas that speak to me and why.
I like how he describes certain memories of Gabriel....
When he learned to crawl he pulled himselfand
Forward on his arms a little at a time
As if he were climbing Arizona Beach on D-day
When he colored his hair blueGabriel was not an easy child to raise which Hirsch acknowledged...
The sink was covered with blue dye
As if the sky was turned upside down in a bowl
Chaotic wind of the godsand
He was trouble
But he was our trouble
Some nights I could not tellGetting ready for the funeral....
If he was the wrecking ball
Or the building it crashed into
Not knowing who I am
I was lying beside him
In the coffin I still couldn't breathe
And so I woke up in the shadow
Of morning black light
And put on my mourning clothes
His mother also slipped into blackHow I felt when viewing my own son...
Treachery of the parents
Who outlive their son
The funeral director opened the coffin
And there he was alone
From the waist up
I peered down into his face
And for a moment I was taken aback
Because it was not Gabriel
It was just some poor kidand
Whose face looked like a room
That had been vacated
I leaned over and kissed him
On the forehead
It was chilly and hard
I kissed him on the lips
They were stone cold
It was like kissing a corpse
I started keening and wailing
A sob came out of my body
A sound I had never heard before
It was animalistic primalOn grief and mourning....
The wailing the terrible keen
Kept bursting out of me
Grief broke down in phrasesand
And extrapolated lines
From me without myself
I did not know the work of the mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night
The mountaintop is not in sightand
Because there is no mountaintop
Poor Sisyphus grief
Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders
That's why it take courageand
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day
Lord NothingnessHe ends with a question that echoes in my heart...
When my son's suffering ended
My own began
It was Gabriel it was not Gabriel
Wild spirit beloved son
Where have you fled
RIP Josh and Gabriel