The Stations of Her Loss

Portrait of the Artist’s Mother by Barbara Bickle


The Stations of Her Loss


It came with first breath,
with a baptism from holy waters, with a slap
that knocked you into the noise of time.

It came, as always, with numbered
fingers and toes, a severed cord, a split brain,
division and oblivion;
a gift and a loss.

It came with a thud, like book to lectern—
oh, but it was good,
(while it lasted) no denying that—
you loved your gift so
much that you played it always
and everywhere, even in bed
as you whispered prayers.


For years, there were hints of loss,
but you ignored them,
in a long game of pretend;
you played your persona,
never letting on your uncertainty,
that you were losing your grip—
if your lines stayed smooth, how would anyone know?
You still wore your charms then, didn’t you?


You lost a name, a date,
a battle, a pastry, so what?
When you lost your own grandchild,
that was harder to reconcile—
better to make light of it,
like children, play hide-and-go-seek,
words disappearing
and yet retrievable, a-a-a-a-a-a-
game of time!


What to do about the loss of conjugation,
the mangling of order and place?
Yes, a dog can follow commands;
curl into a ball, roll over, lie flat;
but no dog ever baked a pie.
What is the use of argument?
You pled harmony; I begged particulars.
Summertime, we picked strawberries:
me, the soft furred fruits; you, the firm green hearts.
I was the little brown berry of your brood;
the others had their own inflections—
did you forget that?


Forgetting you forgot
brought you back to innocence,
to a time of laughter;
your speech became a marvel of invention:
word-bits strung in rapid chains
with an ease any rapper would envy.
I would snatch at the scatterings;
if I didn’t try for syntax,
you made more sense:
Our Lady of the Mirror shares communion.


You tossed your words like salad
and the wind caught the chaff;
you spit out your dentures
when they cluttered your mouth.
Only sticky words stuck;
snippets of song—
enpapapapa Lorraine,
dadadadada dondaine…
It was a time for dancing:
oh, oh, oh,
avec mes sabots!

You danced the day, you danced the night, out the door
and through the woods, until you found
a small safe house to hold you.


Your joints jammed and your limbs locked:
You lost the spring, but kept the fall.
Down, down, down.
We propped you in a chair.
There, there, there.
When I massaged your shoulders,
it was like kneading boulders.
“Ahhh, yahhhh,” you sighed, sweet nothings.
You could still kiss.
There was still time for love-making.


We found you sitting at your bedside,
blathering to dolls.
We drew our chairs around you;
storytime: your face raced from one plot to another,
grinning, then glaring, then gleaming.
You would find a syllable and ride it,
up and up and up
and down,
up and up and up—
You had a voice that could fill a cathedral.
Your roommates, mercifully, were deaf.


And when all your syllables were lost,
you still had sound.
When the nurses phoned me with updates,
I could hear your voice from down the hall:
raw, elemental, untiring.
I was embarrassed;
I wondered what others must think of you.
I did not realize that you were divining;
keening your own wake
in your mother tongue.


Pneumonia, that old-time
friend gripped your chest.
You groaned and thrashed, desperate
it looked, to escape your skin.
The nurses offered opioid blessings.
And while I sang the saints,
you passed to silence.


“The Stations of Her Loss” read by Holly Tsun Haggarty

About Holly Tsun Haggarty

Holly (Descroches Tsun) Haggarty, PhD, is an artist, educator and scholar. She loves that art offers a way to connect with others and build communities, whether they be familial, local, ecological, global, or universal. Lately, when not working at her desk, she might be out exploring the riverside trails of Thunder Bay, contemplating or composing, all the while pushing her napping grandson in his stroller. You can find her recently published open-access dissertation on belief, art, and knowing here.

About Barbara Bickle

Barbara Bickle writes: My projects often reflect cultural, social or political events or experiences. In 2014, an installation titled Grey Matters: Conversations with Dementia was unveiled at St. Matthew's United Church, Halifax. This art installation of sixty works was constructed from a set of quotations collected over a period of ten years while visiting hospitals, senior retirement residences and assisted living quarters. It was my response to the joy, frustration and humour observed over this time. Most recently, an exhibition titled Birthmarks Landmarks, was held at the NovaScotia Archives, Halifax. The twelve-year project explored the experiences that shaped the lives of three generations of my family. Using a variety of styles and techniques, the exhibition displayed a range of art making: landscape and still life painting, figure studies, collage and digital media. The oceanside setting and the vibrant life of the Halifax community play a significant role in my art.

One thought on “The Stations of Her Loss

  1. Janet W.

    Hi BB!!
    Your Dear Mother…..very special!!
    Love the portrait:)


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