It’s 3:19 a.m. I’ve been texting with a friend for the last 20 minutes, a friend who, like me, like so many of us this year (and what is it about this year?!?) has had first her heart, and then her guts, stomped out by someone she loved. She texted me because she knew I would not tell her “get over it,” or “move on,” or any variation on that theme.

Do people really do that?

I offered to meet her for brekafast, but she begged off. A sobbing mess, exhausted, going to bed. I understand. When I’m in the deepest pit of my blackest despair, I don’t really want anyone to try to help, either. I just want to wallow. I’m sure she was surprised to find me awake at 3 a.m. Or perhaps not. I’m often awake at 3 a.m.

We have plans to meet for dinner on Sunday, and if she follows through — follow-through is her weak spot — I have a lot to tell her about not closing down, not shutting out, not killing off. Not doing any of the things I’ve done myself over the years. She talks the talk already. “I’m never going to do x, y or z ever again.”

Except, she’s 24. She’s got a long way to go yet.

Is there an upside to that kind of self-preservation? Sure. Having killed a lot of those switches has allowed me to ride out this most recent gut-stomping (the loss of a woman I’ve been with for 8 years, whom I expected to spend the rest of them with) while maintaining a shred of my dignity, a hard thing for a man to do when dumped.


I know I’m hiding. I’m trying to duck out of the path of a big, heavy, angry wall of cold, dark, roiling water and if the crest of that tide ever catches me, I’m not completely certain I’ll survive it. I’ve sewn the wind. If I can dissuade her from going down this path, I think I’ll be doing her a favor.

I’m going to share with you the poem I intend to share with her; a poem I’ve found great comfort in over the last couple months.

Failing and Flying

by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph


I think that’s the greatest post-break-up poem of all time. I will likely pick a line or two from this and make it my next tattoo. I just have to decide if it would be an act of bravery, or something else to hide behind.

4 Responses to A poem for those of broken heart

  • Freiherr Karza von Karnstein says:

    You are grieving. The feelings and reactions you describe are a normal part of that process. That you actively reach out to someone in need when you are in great pain yourself is a testament to your strength of character, to the kind of man that you are.

    Two decades ago, my family was destroyed in a car accident. Those who were not in the medical examiner’s office were in the intensive care unit for months. For me, the mask, that which I hid behind, was an administrative necessity. But when I closed my eyes, I always saw what I saw at the medical examiner’s office.

    I still see these images today when I close my eyes. The difference is that the years have allowed me to develop a modus vivendi with them. They are still there, they still hurt, but I can go on in spite of them.

    Will life ever be the same as before? No. But will life go on, is it possible to live, to feel, and to feel even joy, after and despite this? Yes. It does not come soon, but it does come.

  • Bryn Pryor says:

    Modus vivendi. I always forget about that expression. Yes. Very good. That’s it, precisely.

  • Ken Brodzinski says:

    I know there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said, or thought, or written already, other than you are my friend, and you are loved.

  • Honey West says:

    My mom passed away in August 09 and she was my best friend in the entire world. I’m still in shock and will be for the rest of my life. I wake up crying and go to bed crying. No, nothing really helps that people try to say, so all you can do is work your way thru it. I know this doesn’t help. But I agree with the other poster, you are in grief which is a physical hell that nobody who isn’t currently in the middle of it can understand. It’s a foreign country to them. It’s like being in a private club that nobody wants to visit, nor do they want to hear the “issues”. And other grief stricken people can barely help themselves much less others in the same condition. I’m sorry.

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