Remembering Paul in poems

In twenty more days it will be twenty years since our son Paul died by suicide. Please bear with me for these days. It’s going to be hard to live through them.

I told someone yesterday that even after so many years the memories of the day we found him dead are still vivid, and the grief is just as ongoing and encompassing. It is with such sadness that I look at this photo of him smiling next to his girlfriend.  It was  probably one of the last times they were together.

I wrote a lot of poems about Paul and his death over the years. I still write poems about him. I’ll share some here.

A Stone Called Son

I sleep with a stone.
It’s gray and small enough
To fit in the palm of my hand.
One side is smooth, the other
Has the word, son, cut into it.
And when I put the stone
In the crook of my index finger
I can read the word with my thumb.
I like to place it between my breasts
And feel its coolness on my chest.
It quiets the pain in my heart
And slows down my heartbeats
So I can rest.
Sometimes I hold it all night
And find it in my fist when I wake
When I’m not sleeping it sits next to my bed
On a tiny silk pillow imprinted on one side
With the word, heal.
Well, it takes time.
A healing pillow and a stone called son
Can’t do all the work.

Black Bomber

Swaddled in this
black bomber jacket all weekend,
I am safe from the Big Sur chill.
It’s too large for me.
And that’s okay. It was Paul’s.
I bought it for him
years ago at American et Cie on La Brea
before he went crazy
and decided to leave us
way before his time.
I like how it snuggles me,
like he’s in there too giving me a hug.
It’s the only piece
of his clothing I have left.
I’ve given away the rest:
his favorite plaid shirts
that smelled of sweat and smoke,
the torn jeans he salvaged
from second-hand stores,
his worn brown Doc Marten oxfords
that took him miles on his manic escapades,
and the tan suede jacket
he had me repair over and over
because he couldn’t let it go.
Like this jacket –
I’ll never let it go.
It has stains I can’t remove
and threads unraveling,
My son is gone.
But this jacket—
try and take it from me.
Just try.

Making It Hard

The bright room is almost full.
All four walls of mirrors reflect women and men
in baggy shorts and sleek black tights.
The music is so loud
the woman in front of me stuffs earplugs in her ears.
Lisa G says, “work from the core;
your workout relates to your real life.”
I want to get on with it.
I don’t come here at 6 A.M. to listen to a lecture.
The neon sign on the wall says “sweat,”
and that’s what I want to do.
The woman behind me complains.
I don’t know her name, but here she is every week
always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black.
Black tights, black sports bra, black thong leotard,
black headband on her head of black hair.
Even her lipstick looks black.
A drill sergeant in baseball cap and high-top aerobic shoes,
Lisa begins her litany.
“If it were easy, everyone would be fit,” she shouts,
“Don’t come here and expect it to be easy.”
She doesn’t know my name. I like it that way.
I like the feeling of being anonymous here.
I don’t know anyone and no one knows me.
No one knows about Paul, that he died
or any other thing about me either.
Being anonymous is a benefit.
It keeps me in shape, calms my mind,
gives me the space to be myself.
It’s a mini-vacation from the horrors of my life.
So I thank Lisa G
for getting me moving,
for making it hard,
for making it hurt,
for showing me how to
trade one pain for another.

I’ll Always Remember

I’ll always remember he slept without closing his eyes all the way
I’ll always remember he walked fast and way ahead of us
I’ll always remember he had long, thick, black eyelashes surrounding clear blue
eyes
I’ll always remember he played the piano, legs crossed at the knees, leaning
way down over the keyboard
I’ll always remember he liked to wear second-hand clothes and didn’t mind
if they were ripped
I’ll always remember the way he stood at the pantry door munching almonds
I’ll always remember he liked to climb — trees, rocks, up the highest diving
boards
I’ll always remember he was meticulous about his things
I’ll always remember he could play almost any tune by ear
And that he was always a loner
And how much he loved Janet
And wasn’t hugged enough after she left him
I’ll always remember he was sensitive
I’ll always remember he drove too fast and erratically
I’ll always remember he got lots of parking tickets
I’ll always remember he was in love with John Lennon
I’ll always remember he liked Doc Marten shoes
I’ll always remember he tapped his foot when he sat down
I’ll always remember seeing him on the stone stoop drinking coffee at
Starbucks
I won’t ever forget the feel of his cool pale skin the last night I saw him
Or the sound of his voice
I’ll always remember his hair was thick
I can’t forget he knew all the nursery rhymes by the time he was two
I’ll always remember that he and his brother called the back of the station
wagon, “the really back”
I’ll always remember he loved to fish.

***

You can find many more Paul poems in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother’s Memoir of Living with Her Son’s Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide.

Comments

  1. Oh, Madeline, your poems are beautiful. You are keeping Paul’s memory alive. I’m keeping you in close at heart and in my prayers during this difficult time. Sending hugs and blessings.

  2. Lovely and bittersweet. Your poems speak to all the mothers who have lost their precious sons.

  3. Such lovely poems and yet bittersweet during these days. The words held in these poems speak to all mothers who’ve lost sons and perhaps to even fathers who’ve lost a son. We never know how far-reaching our words are.

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Thank you Sherrey, so nice to hear from you and to read your kind and understanding words. All best,
      Madeline

  4. Dear Madeline, I love reading your words and memories of Paul. Although I haven’t experienced such a loss, You express it so poignantly that I have to keep reading.

    Sending love and healing to you,
    Marlu

    • Madeline Sharples says:

      Dear Marlu, thank you for your kind words. I’m glad my poems resonate with you and keep you reading. I look forward to seeing you again soon. xoxo Much love.

  5. Beautiful. Touching. Raw. Thank you for sharing a bit of your pain – we all carry some form of it and it speaks to us. It helps us cry and heal.

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