following natalie into the room

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so i am nearing the end of the second non-poetry book i’ve read this summer. the first was cheryl strayed’s wild, and now i am finishing natalie goldberg’s long quiet highway. both made me cry: the kind you can’t hold back. the tears and tears and tears.

i sobbed early in wild, while cheryl’s mother was dying. and just a bit ago, i was sobbing as natalie’s zen teacher was dying. i knew enough about both books ahead of time to know the sequence of events: neither death was a surprise to me.

i don’t think it’s reading about death that upsets me. i think it’s watching others grieve. (it’s what gets me in movies and news stories, too.) i have such empathy, of course. and a certain amount of fear: when natalie enters the room with roshi’s body, i see my mom in her hospital bed in the living room waiting for them to take her away. i haven’t pictured that in a long time.

i don’t remember my own grief very well. i’m not sure i’ve done much of it at all. nothing that has a narrative, for sure, like these memoirs seem to. and i can’t really access it: what was i doing while she was sick? what was i thinking about? who was around me? how did i feel when … and yet cheryl and natalie nail it.

it makes me think of how incredibly important it is to tell the stories we can tell.

i seem to be able to write poetry and blog posts about relationships and divorce. maybe that’s someone else’s “get-stuck” point. maybe other people can’t write about the heart break and doubt and new chances for joy.

i’m grateful for those who can write about the difficult things, and i’m honored they share their words … even if i have to take a running start at the top of each page once i pick the books back up again after wiping my eyes and blowing my nose.

natalie, i’m so sorry to have left you there, stuck at the door where roshi’s body lies before you. what a place to abandon you! i will return to you shortly and follow you into the room. xo


  1. Thank you for this post. I never thought about the ability to write about a difficult subject (for me, infertility) as something to be grateful for as it may be a “stuck” point for others. I think your writing is honest and brave, and I am always waiting for your next poem.

  2. I’m in a rush off to work, but… read Natalie’s. And now, recently released and read, a book about voice and relationship from a woman and a writer I deeply admire.

    Terry Tempest Williams, “When Women Were Birds”. The first ten pages alone are worth the admission to read and understand.
    my regards, neil

    1. i love natalie. had a chance to study with her on a brief retreat 3 1/2 years ago. & thanks for the recommendation – i will check it out! (though next on my non-poetry list is “healing anger” by the dalai lama as i promised in a previous post.

  3. Loved ‘Wild’, really engaging and wonderful the hindsight brings to her story by looking back, yet the freshness of the journey as if it has only happened recently. Just magic.

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