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Cynthia Manick, Shapes of Grief: A Haibun

Updated: Oct 1, 2023

Shapes of Grief: A Haibun

by Cynthia Manick

Have you ever breathed so deep, the diaphragm talks to a river?

At first I thought my mother wanted us to be quiet together. The

way one deals with ruin that’s not a dream. But instead, she asks

to watch another online funeral for someone in the South - the 2nd

in a month. In my head I call them death parades with no floats or

pretzel bites. A procession of southern shapes, bowed heads,

hats - a line of crows on a telephone wire. The mythology of grief

is held in photos, sickle-shaped spines, or the constant gasp of one

owns seeing. So I open my eyes– wanting to look down and see

a hock joint or rooster feet, something not me, without language.

But no, I breathe until I’m called not daughter, but sanctuary.

My apartment bandwidth fills with lyrics my mother could mouth

in her sleep. To an audience of one, she provides parade, I mean

ceremonial commentary – "Suzie May's looks so big now, has she

stopped walking to the mailbox? That pastor needs a towel for his

face, no one wants a sweaty pulpit. And in a lower register like

they can hear – “I think that's the secret daughter no one talks

about?" She jokes but trailing inside sentences, eyes are alive

and a little furious. No sermon rooted enough has hands for

all these watchers.

we shape grief out with

a honed bird’s beak knife– it sounds

like the color blue


Cynthia Manick is the author of No Sweet Without Brine (Amistad, 2023) which received 5 stars from Roxane Gay, editor of The Future of Black: Afrofuturism, Black Comics, and Superhero Poetry, winner of the Lascaux Prize in Collected Poetry, and author of Blue Hallelujahs. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Hedgebrook, MacDowell Colony, and Château de la Napoule among other foundations. For 10 years she curated Soul Sister Revue, a quarterly reading series that promoted poetry as storytelling and featured emerging poets, poet laureates, and Pulitzer prize winners. Manick’s poem “Things I Carry into the World” was made into a film by Motionpoems and debuted on Tidal for National Poetry Month. A storyteller at literary festivals, libraries, and museums, her work has also featured in VOICES, an audio play by Aja Monet and Eve Ensler’s V-Day, the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day Series, Brooklyn Rail, the Rumpus and other outlets. She currently serves on the editorial board of Alice James Books. She lives in Brooklyn, New York but travels widely for poetry.

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