It is fitting that Helen Calcutt‘s ‘A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide’ is the Ink Sweat & Tears Pick of the Month for October 2019. The theme of National Poetry Day in October was Truth and what can be more truthful, more honest than explaining to a child about the suicide of someone close? And then to write something so painful and so raw that also offers hope? As one voter put it: ‘Broke my heart. Then restarted it.’
Helen is the author of two books of poetry, Sudden rainfall (Perdika, 2014) a PBS Choice, and Unable Mother published by V.Press in September 2018. Her writing is published internationally, including award-winning essays and reviews for The Wales Arts Review, The Brooklyn Review, The London Review, Poetry Scotland and Boundless. She is creator and editor of Eighty-Four a poetry anthology on the subject of male suicide. Website: https://helencalcutt.org/
A conversation with my daughter about my brother’s suicide
She is awake.
The moon is bright and the clouds have parted.
The trees are painted trees, living a still life.
She tells me my brother is in the moon.
I’ve bathed her, given her milk
and as I fold the sheets from her knees
to her lap, she asks me how he died.
‘He was very sad’ I say
and she seems to understand.
She rubs the milk away from her lips with her hands
as if the moon had kissed her
and then asks why.
I try to explain.
‘Sadness can make you very tired.
It can make you want to sleep.
It can make you want to close your eyes on everything.’
Her hands are like two leaves
resting on the bedcovers. She asks me if I miss him
and when I say I do
her eyes go big and round
and she asks me again, how he died
if the sadness of missing him
will make me die.
I hold her then, I accept
the weight of her. I can feel her widening like the stillness of a tree –
my child, coming into a still life…
Then we talk about the moon being
the shape of an egg, upside down.
We watch branches touch on drifting clouds
and agree – we want to see everything.
We stay up half the night finding patterns on the walls.
Different kinds of windows.
Other voters’ comments included:
Given the devastating statistics of male suicide this is one of those poems that pushes through the poetry landscape as a signpost to show people where suicide takes those left behind. It is so personal and brave that it takes the breath away but comforts, disturbs and educates like poetry should. It is a timeless poem like Frieda Hughes poem also about her brother Nicholas’ suicide. Beautiful
A painfully, beautiful and brave poem. I’m voting not for the subject matter alone, but for the quality of the poem, which is up to the task.
An honest, brave poem that tackles a very difficult subject
Unbelievably sad and hopeful in equal measure.
A beautiful piece. The pain, honesty and love found in this poem is captivating.
Heartfelt words. Moments shared between mother & daughter. As a parent how can you explain death, particularly suicide, to a child?! This poem addresses that precious shared time as death affects us all – beautifully yet so clearly written.
tough subject handled beautifully. ..such delicacy…and the charming innocence of her child…the deceptive simplicity and wonderful leafy images. An open window of a poem despite the sorrow of loss etc
Such a sad tale told beautifully
A poignant and sensitive piece evoking the aching resonance of grief yet offering a glimpse of a stronger future. Beautiful!
Deeply moving to read. So perfectly crafted, that the craft is practically invisible – which is quite something to do when the subject matter is so painful to the poet. Not a trace of self indulgence – which unfortunately can affect so many poems of this deeply personal nature. Really up there as a genuinely great poem – one that will last.
If ‘truth’ were a poem, this is it.
It’s uncompromising, quiet power, its raw, intimate poignancy. She speaks of a motherhood I feel know, though I’ve never experienced what she has. The poem leads me to believe I have.
It’s a brave, beautiful, painful, but ultimately hopeful poem,and speaks with a clear, true voice.
Suicide being very close and personal to a lot of people hearts is still very unspoken about. This poem perfectly uses imagery to evoke the emotions surrounding this. It also depicts family, and the effect on small children, how do you explain suicide to young ones? This poem is fragile, yet strong. Sad, yet hopeful. But most importantly, truthful. When you read the poem it feels like it’s coming straight from the heart of truth and for me that is amazingly vulnerable.
The dynamic between mother and daughter over a painful subject is skillfully handled, the tension built and overcome together.
The tenderness and bravery of this poem is inspirational, it leaves an impression long after it has been read.