Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Finding Meaning in a Time of Mourning

by 2020 Poetry First Prize Winner Caitlin Cacciatore

The writing of "Sacrament" was an exercise in mourning, and a labor of love besides. I felt moved to write an elegy for my late grandfather, who had passed of COVID-related breathing difficulties in the middle of March. There was so much I needed to say. I wanted to wrangle everything I felt onto the page--not only the grief and the aching loss and the niggling sense of regret at not calling one last time, but also the pride I felt at having known such a towering figure of a man, and the small comfort that he'd had nearly a century's worth of time on this planet to love and to live and to fight the good fight. 

I can't say I realized when I was writing that I was no longer speaking to my grandfather alone. I was also addressing a world that was entering a period of mourning that lingers to this day. It didn't occur to me until well after I'd finished my first draft of the poem that I had written something powerful enough to speak to others who had similarly lost loved ones. 

Mourning has a tendency to render us powerless and angry. I couldn't allow it to render me speechless as well. I needed to do what all writers do in times of crisis--I needed to offer the world some great and lasting truth, something that would pay tribute to someone I'd loved dearly and lost unexpectedly, something that would have made my grandfather proud and in doing so, honor his memory in the only way I knew how.

At the time "Sacrament" was written, I was just beginning to feel a strong sense of moral obligation as a poet and writer. It's ultimately up to us to chronicle what I like to call the human cost of history. The mind doesn't deal well with large numbers. One day, the pandemic will end and historians will write down horrific numbers and compare the death toll of COVID-19 with that of other pandemics throughout history. 

In a hundred years, I'll be gone and so will most of everyone I knew or loved, but my words might live on, and maybe someone will read them and understand that COVID-19 was not just a number in a textbook or a date on a ledger. It had a real, visceral, human cost that cannot be measured or quantified. That is the power of words--they live on.

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Caitlin Cacciatore is a queer writer and poet who lives on the outskirts of New York City. She believes poetry has the power to create change and brighten lives, and wishes for her work to be an agent of forward motion. Caitlin prefers writing in the hours just after dawn.

Read Caitlin Cacciatore's Poetry First Prize Winning "Sacrament" (page 5)
and other fine works of Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, Short-Short, and Humor
in Bacopa Literary Review 2020 (print and digital)

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