Harley White

I Don’t Deserve - Poem by Harley White

I don’t deserve a poem about my grief.

My only son and daughter

they should not
should not
have died
so young.

It offends the natural order.

No matter what
how horribly I failed
to be a mother
who knew how

(I was too numb to notice—
ever choking on myself—
my unfelt feelings)

and yet

they should
should not have died

they should
have made it through

I thought they had

when suddenly

one cursed August day in ‘94

my dearest Julia of twenty-nine
she took her life
and mine—

and then
just two years hence

in tortured March of ‘96

my precious son
my David thirty-one
who suffered so

who tried to hide
his agonies
so as to spare me more

he slipped away
so near
and yet so far

keeping still
his secret illness
till the end

and afterward

O my hero!

There are no excuses.

There’s no surcease
from the sorrow

not for me

I was— I am
their mother.

I had a splendid son
who sang his woodwinds
like a soaring bird
in farewell flight

who blazed so bright
and burned
in longings too intense
in dreams too great
for great great heights

whose ashes
I can not
let go

and daughter oh so beautiful
as brilliant as they come

whose presence
graced our planet

who knew the stars
while probing deep
so awfully deep within
the fearsome mysteries
of holey blackness.

Oh they were artists both—

my son the music maker
stunning improviser
talented beyond the bends

and she had such a gift
for crafting words—
how wondrous her plays
those lovely poems
homaged on a page.

I’m haunted so…

I need to say I’m sorry
for not being
than I
was then—

to somehow be forgiven

but I can’t
cannot turn back
to do it better
do it right.

For no matter how
they say I’m not to blame

I am
I know I am

don’t tell me
I their mother

I don’t deserve a poem
though they do

but I—
I don’t deserve to write it.

I don’t deserve a mourning poem
to ease the pain
that stabs me
through and through

and doesn’t dull—

they say death breaks the heart—
that master muscle
sans emotion—

but their deaths

my life
in two

twice over

so I could
no longer breathe

nor want to.

I die each day
with them


that awful dive
my daughter took

I cannot look

I cannot find
a single saving grace
inside my self

to save my soul

cannot forgive
forgive myself

not ever.

I don’t deserve
a life
their deaths.

I don’t deserve a poem
my pain.

I don’t deserve
I don’t…

I can’t
go on…


[Dedicated to Julia Lynne White– astrophysicist, poet, playwright (February 7,1965– August 9,1994) and David Ellis White– composer, woodwind player (September 3,1963– March 8,1996) ]

Topic(s) of this poem: life

Comments about I Don’t Deserve by Harley White

  • Bill Cantrell (9/13/2017 4:37:00 AM)

    These words broke my heart, now I think I understand the hell you mentioned in cosmic hand I read yesterday, the saying that time heals is not true, it just makes us more numb, I still miss my parents which I list in my early teens and I thought of suicide but I was a coward to carry it out, but I had my hell and I'm well aware of the feeling of blaming oneself, no one can fully understand another's pain but in thiese words no one could help pick up on your intense love for them, your poetry honors them, my friend...the heavens hold many wonders but none of then compares to love, I will never forget this poem for it made a connection to me to my own past and present. (Report) Reply

    Harley White (9/13/2017 8:00:00 AM)

    To feel understood and have one’s feelings ‘received’ is I think a deep human need. This poem was hard to write, but I finally had to… It took courage to express myself through this outpouring of the raw pain inside, and then to share it… The fact that you have been touched by these words gives me satisfaction, even if it means feeling less alone in the grief! Your empathy brought tears to my eyes. I think many people feel uncomfortable with such emotions, judging from the palliatives and clichés most offer as response. I feel for your great loss as well!
    As for suicide, my personal world has been surrounded with it and I too have felt the urges. I see you read my poem “Must Give Us Pause”, which addresses questions about what might happen after death. Since I believe we somehow create our own destiny, I do not want the karma of dying in a state of inner hell. So it isn’t lack of courage that keeps me from going that route, but desire for a better and less painful future. I will stop here and say again how much I genuinely appreciate having you as a reader of my works! You are a rarity indeed!

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  • (3/29/2014 10:03:00 AM)

    So very sad. Yet so lovingly written. They may be gone but love them still greatly. They will know. (Report) Reply

    Harley White (3/4/2017 3:20:00 PM)

    Thank you, Colleen, for your warm words..

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Poem Submitted: Saturday, March 29, 2014

Poem Edited: Thursday, April 3, 2014

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