Original poem reprinted online here: "When the Grandmother Dies" by Fady Joudah
Originally read: March 7, 2013
More information about the Poet: Fady Joudah
The title is the first line of the poem. However, this is not apparent until the poem is read and then backtracked. The speaker sets up three different poems with a similar thread through the use of anaphora.
For the first section, the focus is on distance. First, the distance between what is actual and how information is spread, "It'll be kept a secret / from her four daughters". The separation then turns to a physical one, "who'll be flying in / from three different countries." Then this section ends with the reinforcement of distant "after years of absence / reunion ends." Here the line "reunion ends," juxtaposes the distance -- that the idea of the sisters/daughters being united through the routine and understanding of distance, now they are forced to deal with each other. Note: This first section is a set-up one where this colors the idea of the main focus -- the daughters.
For the second section, there's the sense of the superficial, "it'll ruin summertime / for the grandkids," The tone of this line feels like a projected line, that the speaker, through a bit of the hyperbole through the word "ruin" places more emphasis on what the speaker thinks. Then the shift over to more of a reasoning line where I feel the authorial intrusion is more apparent, "in their mothers' grief will eat / okra each day / fresh & leftover / till it tastes like ash." So the forced simile of "like ash" is more of authorial intrusion than of experience because the taste description is so symbolic that it jutts up against the scene rather than enhance. Here, the speaker wants the reader to know that there are multiple reasons why summertime is ruined: grief, okra, malnutrition.
In the last section, the focus on the closest person to the grandmother -- the groundskeeper. The name itself has symbolic meaning of someone who takes care of plants, places, things, which is grouped together with the grandmother. However, I feel he's the most genuine in asking for money because the intent of the daughters, and the grandkids come off as one sided -- they grieve and the poem is not about character development which reinforces the idea of distance. And in the last lines, the daughters are shown being a bit caddy, "Were it not for you / the dead would have died." However, I don't believe that this would be a direct quote from the daughters -- rather, a stylized poetic line that comes at the end of the poem to emphasize a point.
For example, the multiple readings behind "the dead would have died" directed to the groundskeeper.
1) Relates to the grandmother, whose memory is kept alive through the distance
2) The way he kept the grounds alive from near death -- neglect and other things.
Yes, the line comes off too artificial, too pointed -- just like the daughter's grief in a sense.
Note: read "About the poem." interesting parameters to write a sequence of poems in.