Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
A Red Wagon for Sean


What if we carried our dead to the earth
in red wagons--the way my grandson

loads his with treasures. Destination unknown,
they are at home, rolling along behind him.

What if--instead of a coffin--we'd placed Sean
in a red wagon, kept him close till our hours of lead

had begun to pass--till we could bear to stroke
his bruised and swollen face, count his broken bones.

What if we'd cradled him in a soft blanket, pulled
him in his wagon on our walks by the river,

to our offices, and on visits to his sisters so
all of us had time to adapt to his new presence.

What if we'd covered his face. Whoever was ready
could lift the cloth, touch him gingerly, or even

cradle his head, mindful of his broken neck,
the scar beneath his strawberry hair where the doctor

peeled back the skin from his skull at the autopsy.
The bravest one of us could unwrap his left hand--

uncovered all night in the snow--to see if it was blackened,
if any of his frozen fingers were missing.

What if before we'd delivered him to the flames,
each of us had lain with him in his red

wagon, nestling with the brother, the son,
whispering or singing or lying in silence

waiting patiently for the time when we were
ready to embrace his body, then let it go.

Judith Lingle Ryan lives in Nyack, New York. She and her husband have two daughters and five grandchildren. Their son was killed in a climbing accident in 1995. She is the author of Journey from Mount Rainier: A Mother’s Chronicle of Grief and Hope (2006). This is her first published poem.

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What an incredibly emotional account of a deeply tragic loss. I nearly cried while reading your words. Well done. It brought to mind the raw, weeping emotion I feel when I think of my middle brother who died in 2009. For so many people, life moves on so quickly. For others, those who feel it so well and remember, it comes back in spurts. We cannot fall to pieces, but we are wounded. We hobble forward, yet we are never the same. Thank you for sharing your beautiful writing.
Judy: I've read this several times. Each time is different, more profound, more touching. You have captured the soul of your love, grief, mourning. It's a beautiful and haunting piece. I have printed it and placed it in the book you wrote. Thank you for sharing. Love, Kathy
Oh thank you for this heartbreaking beauty. This is what poetry is for. blessings.
Beautiful. I love the relentlessness of the grief expressed in this poem, combined with the recurring image of the red wagon, from a much lighter heart and time. The physical presence -- the body -- is rendered in a wrenching, visceral way throughout the poem.... Fine crafting... hours of lead, yes.
A wonderful, touching poem! Simple and beautiful! But clever and well crafted too, with the most subtle weaving of imagery. The repetition of the red wagon grounded me, and echoed the repetition of grief, the endlessness of the sorrow. Also, the physical description of Sean was heart breaking and masterful. Truly great. Yes, this is what poetry is for. Thank you.
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