It probably wasn’t the best book to pick up post midnight when the sleeplessness was taking over.

The name of the author had drawn me in when I saw the little collection of poems.



Jane Yolen has been a favorite children’s author in our family for years.  She’s written young adult historical fiction we have enjoyed – a book about the holocaust whose name is currently slipping my mind.  She’s written dozens of children’s books we check out over and over again at the library.  All of those great dinosaur books about manners, books about birds and so many more.

I don’t think I was even aware that she had written any poetry.

Things to Say to a Dead Man: Poems at the End of a Marriage and After.

What a title – right?

It felt risky just taking it off the shelf and putting it into my library book bag.

But there I was one recent evening, looking for something to read and saw it lying there.

Yolen’s marriage ended with the death of her husband from cancer, after a marriage of nearly half a century.

It’s a short read – less than sixty pages of poems – that chronicles the days and the years following her beloved husband’s death.

Of course it’s sad.  Of course it’s personal.  Of course it’s poignant.

It’s also comforting and raw and regular and a little painful.

The poem in the middle of the book, from her grandson’s four year old point of view. In his matter of fact voice while playing with matchbox cars saying, “Papa is dead.”

Death and grief have looked like that for me.

Yolen writes …..

I suppose he has the right of it,
but it does not solve the heart
or salve the heart or safe the heart.
I wish I could be four again,
and know you are dead without the pain of it,
a matter of fact like stars stick in the sky
snow is white, mud icky, ice cream cold,
and grandfathers die.
Never mind why.

It’s a tender look at the interior of her heart.  It’s not a feel-pity-for-me book.  Although it would be basically impossible not to feel empathy for Yolen and to recognize yourself in her words if you are a human who has loved and lost, who has lived through any form of death in any of its various incarnations.  (Which is to say – all humans.)