A False Start, by Lynn Kahill

Lynn Kahill

Looking out of the glass as I pass the front door of my house, I can see through the trees the front corner of the cemetery that resides across the road and up a little hill. The cemetery belongs to the church that my family and I attend. For more than twenty years, we have shown up there on Sunday mornings dressed in our best clothes to worship with our neighbors. Some of those twenty plus years have had us not in attendance more than we were. Some years were the opposite. In the very corner of the cemetery that I can see from my front door lie two empty burial plots that belong to my husband and myself. This is where we will one day be interred. Directly beside those plots lie a third grave that already has a stone. On the stone is the name of my infant daughter. She was my third child. Her only firsts in this world would be recorded on this stone. Not her first laugh or her first smile, just the fact of her being. This stone is the only piece of her that I still have.

If anyone had ever asked me to name something that twentieth century poet Robert Frost and I had in common, I would have said nothing. What a laughable concept that this famous man, this brilliant poet and I could ever share any common ground. I would have been wrong. Of Robert Frost’s six children, he and his wife Elinor, would lose two of them. His son would become ill of cholera and die at the age of three, and his daughter Elinor would die in infancy. According to critic Andrea Defusco, “Frost dealt with his grief over Elliott’s death by burying himself in his work–farming and writing. One of the poems from this time is ‘Home Burial’.”

In “Home Burial” Frost presents to the reader a dialog between husband and wife discussing the intricate feelings they each have regarding their recently dead son. The husband and wife have a chance meeting as she is stopped on the stair and looking out a small window upon their child’s grave. The scene through the window is one the husband has never before noticed, and he does not at first realize what his wife is looking at. “‘What is it you see/ From up there always – for I want to know’”(6-7), the husband asks the wife. She refuses to answer him and remains silent, “She let him look, sure that he wouldn’t see,/Blind creature; and awhile he didn’t see./ But at last he murmured, ‘Oh,’ and again, ‘Oh’” (15-17). The wife’s anger toward her husband then increases because she does not believe that he can understand what she is looking at. He understands that he is looking at his family’s burial plot, “the little graveyard where my people are!” (24) and that she is focusing on “the child’s mound” (31). The two prevalent emotions here are anger and frustration. The wife is angry at her husband for the loss of her child because there is no one else to take her anger out on and because of his apparently minimal experience of grief at the loss of the child. He was the one that was there, and he is the one who dug her child’s grave,

You could sit there with the stains on your shoes
Of the fresh earth from your own baby’s grave
And talk about your everyday concerns.
You had stood the spade up against the wall. (73-76)

To then add insult to her already injured heart, she hears him idly speak to himself, “Three foggy mornings and one rainy day/Will rot the best birch fence a man can build”(81-82). She cannot understand how he can speak of such trivial matters if he were in as much pain as she is. In her mind he does not love as much as she does because he appears not to care. The husband, on the other hand, is simply frustrated because he does not understand why she cannot acknowledge that she is not the only one who has lost a child. He cannot grasp why her distress runs so deep or why if two people are in love they might be unable to overcome any loss or obstacle in their path together.

While Frost does an excellent job of conveying the emotions of both the husband and the wife, there are further feelings that run deeper than what is apparent on the surface. The wife wishes to leave not only her husband but also the home where her child was most likely conceived, born and died. The very walls and especially the small window practically breathes the absence of her baby. Her husband becomes also her jailer in that he wishes to keep her confined to her childless prison, but he does not see it that way. He sees the home as a solace where they can console each other, not a physical thing that needs escaping. Frost ends the poem, appropriately, with nothing settled. The wife leaves; the husband threatens to bring her back by force.

After my own child died, my arms would literally ache with my yearning to hold her. I could not face her room or any of her things that she would never play with. My tears would not stop at the thought of her being so close by but forever out of my reach. The wife in this poem wishes to flee not just from a husband who cannot possibly understand her physical and emotional pain but from everything that is causing it. In reality there is no fleeing. The pain simply follows you until it becomes smaller and smaller, finally to be a hitchhiker in your thoughts instead of a driver of them.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s