Joan Didion’s Essay Re-imagined

Joan Didion is one of America’s foremost writers. She writes her essays in what I have determined as a one-liner prose. She condenses her prose into as few words as she could.

Her one-liner prose sentences rivet me. If Didion collected all the one-liners and made them into poetry, I think they would really make me cry at the volume they speak with tacit, muffled words:

In my head I always see writers and poets write like Ezra Pound in “In a Station of the Metro.”

I have chosen to re-imagine “After Life,” the first essay she wrote after she lost her husband. After John’s death, Joan’s paper was silent for over a year.

I have transformed the sentences into poetry.

“After Life:” an essay by Joan Didion examining the day her husband died.

I have re-titled it as “A Make-believe Poem” (Frances Ohanenye)

 

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.

For a long time I wrote nothing else.

Life changes in the instant.

The ordinary instant.

It is now, as I begin to write this,

the afternoon of October 4, 2004.

December 30, 2003, a Tuesday.

We had seen Quintana in the

sixth-floor I.C.U. at Beth Israel North.

We had come home.

We had discussed whether to

go out for dinner or eat in.

I said I would build a fire, we could eat in.

I built the fire, I started dinner,

I asked John if he wanted a drink.

John was talking, then he wasn’t.

I remember saying, Don’t do that.

When I read this at breakfast

almost 11 months after the night

with the ambulance and the social worker,

I recognized the thinking as my own.

I remember thinking that

I needed to discuss this with John.

There was nothing I did not discuss with John.

The sign-off, I later learned,

was called the “pronouncement,”

as in “Pronounced: 10:18 p.m.”

I had to believe he was dead all along.

If I did not believe he was

dead all along I would have

thought I should have been able to save him.

What did he mean?

Did he know he would not write the book?

You sit down to dinner.

“You can use it if you want to,” John had said when

I gave him the note he had

dictated a week or two before.

And then – gone.

My father was dead, my mother was dead,

I would need for a while to watch for mines,

but I would still get up in the morning

and send out the laundry.

I would still plan a menu for Easter lunch.

I would still remember to renew my passport.

Tightness in the throat.

Choking, need for sighing.

Lynn arrived.

We sat in the part of the

living room where the blood

and electrodes and syringes were not.

Lynn picked up the phone and said

that she was calling Christopher.

And I was.

Then I remembered.

For several weeks that would be

the way I woke to the day.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

I needed to be alone so that he could come back.

The swell of clear water.

That was one way my two systems could have converged.

============================

See what I mean? I am crying.

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