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Flourish Magazine: Poetry – You Died by Ellie Grace

19 Sep 2023

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As part of each issue of Flourish Magazine, we release weekly digital content alongside our free print magazine, on the Artlift and Yes to Life websites. This is often content we couldn’t fit into the magazine’s limited pages, or film and music, but loved and wanted to show the world.  

This issue of Flourish Magazine was on the theme of ‘Movement’, with submissions from those living with or beyond cancer received through an open call for creative responses to the theme.  

First up in our digital content is a longer, 5-part poem by Ellie Grace – part 5 of which is featured in our print magazine – which explores moving through grief and how movement itself helped her do this.  

Read the print magazine online for free here, and watch this space for more digital content! 

Content Warning: Please note this piece contains references to grief, which some readers may find difficult. If you are grieving and need support, please see the resources in our print magazine. 


You Died 

By Ellie Grace 

Part 1 

There was a time 

when grief lay heavy at the bottom of me, 

its stone a mineral weight / weighted stone at the pit of my being 

My blood – your blood – carried endlessly the message of your passing 

each of my veins, every vital organ, touched by the news. 

Daily, in each infinite moment, 

from now… to now… to now, 

your obituary wrote itself into my body. 

That dying blood, the perpetual messenger – 

it multiplied 

around and around, a circuit without exit 

so that my limbs could not move, 

my eyes; they fogged, 

my brain was rewired. 

In bodies we live 

And in bodies we must die: 

There is no greater truth than this. 

When I think of your greyness 

and the life that once pulsed inside 

Your hands and face, always flush with exquisite strength – 

I think 

This is not him. 

The paper for skin is not him 

the nostrils, now cold, 

No longer warm with fatherly breath. 

We gathered the facts, checking on each part of you, 

now stiff and lifeless on the hospital bed 

which lay in our family dining room, under the windows. 

I looked and looked 

at the curvature of your skull 

in just the same way I had over the two years, 

forensic in my research, 

trying to know if the tumour still lived there. 

Our doctor friend said she thought it had died too. 

I wasn’t scared to touch you. 

What I wanted 

was to pull down the metal rails, lie awkwardly 

and pillow against your shrunken body 

the way I had when I knew you were going. 

But instead 

I drank whisky and clutched at my hands, 

Beyond, the summer garden in full and glorious technicolour. 

Some short time after 

– maybe an hour – 

looking from bed 

to window 

and back again 

My mind a slowscape of facts, 

the mantra repeating over and over, 

‘My dad is dead. He is dead now’ 

None of it real, of course, because how could that be true? 

the bed itself shifted, 

the mattress giving over some unmeasurable weight to the air. 

We all heard it. 

I asked my mum, “What is that?” and without hesitation: 

“It’s his soul, leaving his body.” 

It continued for some hours 

keeling, like a boat moored to a jetty, 

a release not unlike the final sputtering of a gas flame on the hob. 

The African nurses who had sat vigil in the dead of these nights 

prayer books on their laps, 

had not warned us. 

I suppose they had seen it over and over, 

the way we hadn’t. 

We had preparation, however, for the way we were allowed to go from here. 

So we kept you, prostrate, in our dining room for two days 

until the funeral directors wheeled you out for the pyre. 

You lay dead downstairs while we slept the sleep of mourners up above you. 

And of course, I must say this: 

it was never you in that time. 

Your soul: it took departure 

while your body we gave to the fire. 

* * * 


Part 2 

At first, there was wine, and plenty of it. 

I asked my parents’ friends to bring cases and leave them in the porch. 

So we drank. 

The corkscrew made its way around the kitchen 

exercising its legs in endless mock celebration as it pulled corks 

and the doorbell was forever ringing 

with the arrival of sorry-faced well-wishers bringing 

endless pots of stew and pie. 

I don’t recall eating. 

Time was just an idea, 

really a stringing together of barren moments 

our eyelids swollen 

and our gazes fixture-less. 

Although I do remember this one meal. 

It may even have been the day you died: 

July 16th 2011. 

Were you still lying dead on the bed 

as we laid the table next to you, the summer light 

just forcing its way in 

while our family friends 

nestled in and raised glasses in your honour? 

Can that really be what happened?! 

Once your body was gone, 

we had a task: 

My mum pulled out hymn books 

and her reams of funeral service sheets 

from loved ones 

now gone. 

The four of us, 

some focus – 

a thing at last to discuss that wasn’t about the cancer ravaging your brain: 

No longer a question of will he, won’t he?, 

But OK, this is what we do now: 

– We book the church (the one of course your professional peers will most likely applaud but to 

which we, as children, have never visited: this will be something of a state funeral) 

– There are July’s flowers to be picked 

– The guest list to be sent 

– And the photos, of course, for the service sheet 

(where your love of Cricket and Family find equal representation) 

– The music, both formal and familial… 

Somehow, amidst the papery formalities of death’s bureaucracy, we slept 

But mostly drank and talked and sobbed. 

The tears 

they were low and deep: 

we were animal in our loosing of it, 

a primordial, ancient grief that brewed and rose 

from the very depths of our souls. 

Our bodies, joined by death’s own clutch 

were limp and yet alive – so very, very alive – 

in the raw, strangulating power of your departure. 

When I think of it now 

there were no days or nights 

but just moments, the past 

its pearls shimmering like hallucinogenic light bulbs 

one pearl after another – 

these memories from another country 

Fear the constant interloper that to see them was to lose them. 

And so these days spun, the Earth and sun and moon 

taking soft, unnoticed guidance of time 

while our interiors rolled with plunging velocity 

Our lungs wishing for more air. 

The brain, you see, it works hard to compute 

what it cannot accept. 

And so it was. 

* * * 


Part 3 

The following Spring 

once Earth had turned a quarter round 

and the house had fallen silent to the doorbell and pots of stew 

After Winter had laid out its fierce silence – 

our first Christmas passed without you at the table head, 

Our Father Christmas gone. 

Now bluebells pushing up from their underground 

the four of us drove our way out 

to where you had been married 

some 38 years before 

under different skies and with no 

knowledge of your fate. 

Church spires piercing that low, dull sky 

above the broads 

There, under the nest of saplings 

– the promise of the earth returning -– 

we returned you to her dampness 

scattering that urn of dust holding you and your mighty body, 

just ashes as fine as human skin. 

I think we joked – as is our way – 

that we might have someone else’s urn. 

We even smoked cigarettes and mingled ashes to ashes (which you would have liked) 

and we laughed from the belly when some or all of us inhaled you by mistake. 

I remember clearly rubbing you into the thick of my glove 

Your grey remains merging pale onto my sheepskin fingertip 

and thinking 

you will be in me forever. 

Afterwards we smoked more cigarettes by the car, 

unpeeled the silver skin of some Christmas chocolates 

and drove to a nearby pub 

for the laughter-tears of nobody knows what. 

* * * 


Part 4 

The dreams we once had 

belong to another place now. 

For this is a new time, a new country entirely. 

Visceral and entire – 

How can I ever find the words for what happened to us? 

Just after, 7 months after, 

I had my heart broken again, 

this time by the person I entrusted my life to – 

the one I was hoping to marry. 

This other nameless beast 

he took up residency deep beneath my skin. 

Without language, 

only howls which woke me, wet-faced 

in the middle of the night 

My body drowning, 

my mind not mine, 

I found the void. 

This loss we speak of 

it is never outside of ourselves, 

only within. 

And so I died too. 

And so I died to anything that knew my past or my ideas for the future: 

a laughable concept, even now 

that we may dare to dream of alright things. 

Because there is no terra firma; 

uncertainty alone. 

But I must go back in order to understand. 

What happened was an unfurling 

of mind 


and spirit. 

There was only the bigger picture; 

there still is just the bigger picture 

punctuated by moments of acute, present detail. 

Meditation – 

the act of sitting and observing the processes of the mind – 

It found me. 

Right at the bottom of that pitch-black hell 

and in moment-to-moment awareness 

(truly threading beads onto a threadbare string) 

it stepped in oh, so gently, to deliver space and silence, 

first of the mind 

and finally, the heart. 

But that is too quick for me to say 

in language 

which forgets the blind pain 

of felt experience. 

To go back we must go back 

to the silent Wednesday night classes 

in a church hall 

in south London. 

To dark, rain-soaked nights 

my body thin with worry 

cycling hard against the traffic from my restaurant to this site 

where strangers huddled in blankets over steaming teas 

and lay on herringbone floorboards 

to unfurl their stresses and loads. 

I couldn’t admit why I was there: 

I could not. 

The shame of being twice smashed in the heart 

had not yet found its way to my mouth. 

And so I would follow the norm; 

announce my work stress instead 

Hoping no-one would ever know that I had lost in a way that 

I just could not articulate. 

Hoping, also, that this magic relief would appear and wipe away from deep within 

what my doctor had suggested it might. 

Weeks followed weeks and still, my bicycle would take me home 

woollen layers buffeting my frame 

to bed where 

I would either roll madly awake 

or sleep a sleep 

from which I wanted never to return. 

* * * 


Part 5 

Dad / brain / 

tumour eating reason and prefrontal cortex / 

life slipped away / soul lifted and left / 

my own brain diminished / traumatised it shrunk. 

My circular thoughts, 

heart-stirred and stomach-wrenched 

held me in the narrow pit. 

Once the rhythm of meditation occurred, though, 

minute to minute guided by breath 

a slim space opened at the forefront of my mind. 

Up there, soothed by the tutorials of 

in-breath / out-breath / in-breath / out-breath 

I slipped in to find, on one occasion, 

a lake as smooth as glass. 

From there 

I do not recall how or when 

a mat was rolled out. 

But yoga: 

It lit a candle and held sacred space, 

Saying what no other landscape of the mind could say: 

“You are safe.” 

Opening my hips and heart 

so that tears rolled 

hot and wet 

gulping from my gut and eyes at once, 

The mat beneath soaking them in like dry earth. 

Unnameable emotions 

Running through muscle and nerve, 

Loosened from hip joint 

to belly 

and collarbones. 

The body took its time 

to soften its grip 

on grief’s great tenancy. 

At the ashram they named me Kamala Devi, 

Blue lotus flower, 

A rare and exquisite beauty: 

A bud that makes its way toward the light. 

From the mud it grew 

And so I followed the light in the way only mud weeds know how: 

Through the cracks, just like Leonard Cohen knew. 

My muscles they opened to it, 

Merging this way and that 

uncertain always 

of how to stretch and merge out to where the sun might warm my face. 

It took time. 

And in between, 

the chaos still 

of not knowing, yearning and seeking. 

Until some moments started to take shape that connected bodily pain with mental ease. 

Moving meditation: it gave me space. 

This is all in language now, however, 

in a way that it couldn’t have been at the time, 

for stories have a way of smoothing out the past. 

Then, there were no words. 

No words but breath and salt. 

This yoga, it had a poetry all its own. 

But, but, but! 

I moved its bulk through me 

that knotted hell we call grief 

but which finds no real human name. 

I moved and cried and sweated it in porous fashion 

unsewing its vicious stitches 

back out into the air. 

These days I carry it privately 

like a briefcase in one hand 

knowing my hips still harness the final residue of something 

that longs to stay within. 

These last particles 

have become me 

which is to say it is a tenant on the inside, 

Always a shifting space devoted to its history. 

For no clean line will mark my healing 

and scars are always changing 

and time and hearts play tricks of the mind. 

I see too 

that your brain failed you 

but your love, it persists 

And my tools are mine and my body is my depth 

for which I am always 

always in awe 

and grateful. 

One day 

no longer scared 

I will make a baby from it. 

This is my Hatha Yoga. 

~ May 2016