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The Poets

October 09, 2010

An Elegy to Heather Tripler

Emerson Park
An Elegy on the Passing of Heather Tripler

There’s snow there now where once she lay
Alone that Autumn eve
And though that day seems far away
I still lamenting grieve

For she- a daughter, mother, friend
She pined, I’m sure, in grief
For hard distraught there came her end
By Death, that surly thief

She roamed, she roamed through deepest dark
Alone, no friend to guide
And when she came upon that park
There on a bench she died

No tear went forth, nor word was said
To her who lay asleep
Til angels by her bed were led
In solace ever deep

“Awake, dear child, slumber’s past”
They said in one accord
“Come to the warmth and light at last
For therein is the Lord”

-jwm



Of the Poem

It was 2008, October 10th, when I was home from work and the news was on. A young lady, it was reported, was found dead on a park bench in Grand Junction. She was 34 years old, homeless, and apparently died there as a result of alcohol poisoning. I was utterly grieved by the news of this.

Words elude me. What can I say that might articulate the emotions that are stirred up in me even at this moment? How can I articulate the content of so tragic an event as Heather’s?

Perhaps these words, written to Heather’s mother, might express them the best …

As I mentioned to your sister and your daughter, I’m so sorry for your loss. My daughter is 9 years old, and it would wreck my world if I lost her. This is honestly the closest to empathy that I can reach with regard to the emotional pain I’m certain you feel. I’m truly sorry that you and your family are without Heather. Any attempt to console you I imagine is fruitless, yet I have no doubt that you’ll see Heather again in the hereafter.

I don’t know Heather, but the first time I heard of her plight it grieved me so heavily that I still have difficulty articulating it. It was shortly after she died that the first snowfall of the year occurred, and as I was standing at my doorway looking at this beautiful sight I couldn’t stop thinking about her and that dreadful event. It was then that I felt, deep in the inner reaches of my heart, that I had to memorialize her in the form of a poem; that I had to say ‘something’ in honor of her.

I didn’t know what I would write, but there were two simple rules that I knew I had to follow … first, let the poem come to me rather than forcing too many ideas onto it; and second- and perhaps most importantly- to write it as if Heather were standing right there watching me write it (so as to get a sense of her approval, I think).

Those were the hardest 20 lines that I’ve ever written in a poem, but when I completed them I felt a beautiful sense of connection with Heather.

In the end I feel my point was to express (in the first stanza) the anguish I felt when I first heard of her death; to express (in the second and third stanza) her humanity in the midst of that lonely night- which the media seemed to entirely ignore; and to express (in the last two stanzas), the best way I knew how, her reception into the arms of the Lord.

The truth is, I wanted to express to Heather herself that I was listening. My original intention was to keep the poem to myself, but the second I finished it my conscience compelled me to try and contact her family and share it with them- and I did.

I’ve thought about Heather so much over the last two years. And though I’ve never met her, I’ll never be able to forget her.

8 comments:

Tim Shey said...

Just discovered your blog today. Excellent blog. My favorite poets are T.S. Eliot and Gerard Manley Hopkins. I have only had two poems published in my life. Here is one of them:

SHILOH
By Tim Shey

Brutal deathdance;
My eyes weep blood.
Pharisees smile like vipers,
They laugh and mock their venom:
Blind snakes leading
The deaf and dumb multitude.

Where are my friends?
The landscape is dry and desolate.
They have stretched my shredded body
On this humiliating tree.

The hands that healed
And the feet that brought good news
They have pierced
With their fierce hatred.

The man-made whip
That opened up my back
Preaches from a proper pulpit.
They sit in comfort:
That vacant-eyed congregation.
The respected, demon-possessed reverend
Forks his tongue
Scratching itchy ears
While Cain bludgeons
Abel into silence.

My flesh in tattered pieces
Clots red and cold and sticks
To the rough-hewn timber
That props up my limp, vertical carcase
Between heaven and earth.
My life drips and puddles
Below my feet,
As I gaze down dizzily
On merciless eyes and dagger teeth.

The chapter-and-versed wolves
Jeer and taunt me.
Their sheepwool clothing
Is stained black with the furious violence
Of their heart of stone.
They worship me in lip service,
But I confess,
I never knew them
Though they are my creation).

My tongue tastes like ashes:
It sticks to the roof of my mouth.
I am so thirsty.
This famine is too much for me.
The bulls of Bashan have bled me white.
Papa, into your hands
I commend my Spirit.

Ethos
February/March 1997
Iowa State University

www.wallsofjericho.50megs.com

Genesis 49: 10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.”

Bethany Kiser said...

Heather was a daughter, sister, mother and friend. She was never alone but may have felt that way at times. We miss you every day and I pray you are watching over us, especially your two precious children. Your life on earth was not nearly long enough but I am certain you are in the presence of our Lord and Savior which does bring me a sense of peace through the sadness. I love you!--- Bethany

Nancy said...

Moving & beautiful. Your heart and sensitivity touch the soul. The final stanza beyond words. Thank you for sharing this.

cheryl said...

J,

One of the most beautiful things about our faith, is the sheer joy we will experience in actually having a relationship with those whom we love(d) here, but who never knew us.

It's something I think about often. There are certain individuals I find myself drawn toward, who don't even know I exist. I've often wondered about the hows and whys. It's so very strange how you can become completely attached to another soul you've never personally met.

You compose some of the most beautiful poems I've ever come across. You should seriously think about publishing them.

Anonymous said...

That was my mother and I grieve for her I'm now 13 and thank you for writing this.
-Chris Sessions

Brad Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Clark said...


Thank you for writing this poem. I knew Heather and lost touch with her over the years. I was saddened yesterday when I found her obituary online. She had a beautiful spirit and loved her children more than anything else in her life. She had many people who loved her and tried to help her. Tragic that she passed on alone and homeless. It just illustrates the devastation of addiction, ever reminding me that some must die so that others may live. I will honor her memory by staying sober today. Shine on Heather, I will always remember you and share your story to help others struggling with addiction.
Bradley Clark

As of April 9th, 2010