Snapshots of Grief

This poem explores the way love and grief entangles itself into the fabric of our lives and the web of life itself. Inspired by Ronan Donovan’s photograph, I wanted to capture life in terms of holding on and letting go, especially when in the context of of aging and longevity.

—after Ronan Donovan’s photograph

All that remains is a carcass, feast
for the wolves. They come by every
year gnawing on splayed bones.
Chests heaving. Fur knotted with gore.
Every single one all howl and bite.
Even the pups innately know
how to spot and chase the most
worthy of prey. Understanding
what it means to be weak and old.
How death knows in ways
that I have yet to come to terms with:
the muskox’s high horns, attacking
and protecting, are all wait and decay.
Ribs fanning out as if in release.
The camera is placed inside where its
heart would have been throbbing if it were
guzzling the milk of their mothers or
galloping across the arctic tundra or
grazing on creeping willow. Strength in
charging their own, gentleness in protecting
their young—still carrying forward and on.
If you were to put a camera inside my heart,
you would understand that my grief is
persistent. Death is no predator, but
it knows how to find and seek its prey.
Neither tender nor bearable, time is
the opposite of a gunshot. It was time
for you to go. Still, I mourn for you
with all of my aching self even
when I am all bones. Even when I have
nothing left to give.

Ellen Zhang is a physician-writer who has studied under Pulitzer Prize winner Jorie Graham and poet Rosebud Ben-Oni. She has been recognized by the DeBakey Poetry Prize, Dibase Poetry Contest, and as a National Student Poet Semifinalist. Her works appear or are forthcoming in Jet Fuel Review, The Shore Poetry, Hekton International, and elsewhere.