Stepfather’s Body Viewed After Death

Original poem with comments.


I saw a bag of bones
Clad in neat suit unfamiliar
In tie of
Bold blood red
All contained
A bag of bones.

I saw flesh and skin
Paper thin
Cold pale parched line
Once lips
Cruel words gone
Just paper thin
A bag of flesh and skin.

I saw sunken eyes
Closed no longer seeing
Cruel looking gone
All it was
A sunken bag
Of bones and flesh and skin

But me my bones dance
My flesh full and warm
My lips mouth joy joy joy
My eyes spark lively
Lively lively bright warm dance.

© Diana Raven

I wrote this poem after my stepfather’s death.  I went along with his wife (not my mother, to avoid confusion about relationships!).  As I viewed his body, I had a strong sense of the powerful energy that is life itself, the energy that each of us has, animating the life and health of flesh and bones, but also animating the life of our hopes and dreams, our expectations and fears, our relationships and indeed, every decision and action that we make.  My stepfather had a strong influence on my life, by no means the only influence, but the most long-standing influence, as I had known him since childhood and he long outlived my father and even my mother.  His life was intimately bound up with that of my family – with almost his first job he became a protégé of my grandfather.  He later became a friend and colleague of my father, the husband of my mother, and the stepfather of me, my sister and two brothers.  He was cruel – not physically violent, but he used words, and hurt us with his sarcasm, sneering, scoffing, dismissiveness and judgementalism.

He treated women and girls as inferior to men and I learnt early on to keep my head below the parapet and to avoid mentioning any subject that he might possibly mock or be disparaging about.

After his death, I told myself that I no longer needed to wear my habitual mask of compliance, passivity and inferiority.  In reality my stepfather had hardly been a presence at all in my recent life, and indeed long periods had gone by when I did not visit him or contact him. What exactly was the hold he had on me?  Why have his attitude and beliefs continued to hold such a powerful influence over me?  Now he is gone, what stops me from speaking out, from expressing my feelings, from revealing my true self?

I am writing about this now.

A part of me feels compassion for him.  I can see that the sarcasm and his relentless refusal to admit imagination, creativity or the spiritual into his life were both arsenal and defence to him. But the compassion vies with the anger I feel as I recall the harsh treatment he meted out to his four stepchildren.  Divide and rule was one of his strategies, and my sister and I are still finding it difficult to be open and trusting with each other.

My aim in writing is to own my own pain and also to honour the pain of others.

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