Jack Foley: from “Grief Songs” (Sagging Mencius Press, 2017)

Publisher Jacob Smullyan writes:


“On June 4th, 2016, poet Jack Foley’s wife, Adelle Foley, who was (as she told her doctor) ‘never sick,’ was diagnosed with stomach cancer; she died on June 27th. They had been married for nearly fifty-five years and were an exceptionally close couple. Adelle was also a poet and, like Jack, had published widely. He wrote about her, ‘How can there be sunlight and you not in it?’

“In the months after her death, with extraordinary courage and directness, Jack opened his heart with a series of poems and letters to his friends, many of whom responded with poems of their own. These documents of intense necessity, brought together, make up the deeply moving collection that is Grief Songs: an expression, certainly, of a year of desperate grief, but more essentially, of a lifetime of love.”



What do we do with the dead 
And with what the dead left behind 
Especially when they left behind so much. 
Dead the with do we do what 
Behind left dead the what with and 
Much so behind left they when especially.

            — Jack Foley






I think that, recently, neither

of us


the date

of our first


but it was preserved

in a cartoon:

November 18, 1960.


I sat

in an ice cream shop

with my friends

Paul and Vu

and Vu’s daughter Kaitlin.

I fell silent

uncertain whether

the date were today, November 13

or the next Friday, November 18.

The 18th won out

but I had to wait

until the sweetness and good humor

of my friends had ended.

We parted, smiling.

But tears poured out of me

as soon as I was alone.

I suddenly remembered

the moment when Adelle and I first tongue kissed

in a “date parlor”

in Towson, Maryland

(November 18)

and I began to feel

the love

that will stay with me

till the end of my days 






Matthew Fox writes, “One of the most wonderful concepts that Hildegard [von Bingen] gifts us with is a term that I have never found in any other theologian… the word viriditas or greening power” (Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen). The word suggests “veritas,” truth, as well as “veridicus,” speaking the truth. Wikipedia: “The definition of viriditas or ‘greenness’ is an earthly expression of the heavenly in an integrity that overcomes dualisms. This greenness or power of life appears frequently in Hildegard’s works.”


Some years ago, Poetry Flash editor Joyce Jenkins challenged me to “write a nature poem” for her Watershed event. I found my mind returning to Kore / Persephone, especially to her aspect as seed, thrust underground but emerging to flower. I remembered as well W. C. Williams’s poem, “Of Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” and Denise Levertov’s book of nature poems, The Life Around Us. Adelle was diagnosed with cancer on Saturday, June 4, 2016. I told her doctor, “We want to keep her.” Adelle chimed in, “I want to be kept.” The doctor remarked that Adelle was “taking the news well.” She then asked, “What about him?” — me. Adelle answered, accurately, “A little less well.”


In 1960 — we were both twenty — she sang an ancient French song, “A la Claire Fontaine,” to me. It was a sweet gesture of young love. The refrain of the song is “Il y a longtemps que je t’aime / Jamais je ne t’oublierai” (“I have loved you for a long time / I will never forget you”). Over the years we often sang the song together. In 2016 I sang the song to her as she lay dying in the hospital: “I have loved you for a long time / I will never forget you.” She died at 5 am on June 27, 2016. I wrote many years ago:


It’s not a dream

We lose those we love

          but we love



I read “Viriditas” to Adelle shortly before her death.







the dream

of a green



It is not


to say

“the life around us”—

we are

“the life around us”


it is not possible

to be




(“natura naturans”)


the conditions

in which





are serious, tentative, and limited

this dream

of green


I am that flower

you hold

in your



we are


coming to consciousness



men & women

of light


what is mind

but light?

what is body?


“Make LIGHT of it,”

writes my friend






I vanish into light—


Kora—the seed—

above ground—under—    

                             the need

to follow her—down the rabbit hole

                                     following the


of resurrection—



time vanishes/returns    we grow

in branch and root

in winged or finny stuff

or cloven hoof

in bird-

sound, animal alarm or


(describe a scene—

scene vanishes—

mind appears—)


Kore      woman



                                    No need

that is not satisfied

of food

or sex—



greenness, love:

as you lie in this moment

of danger,

as you sleep

wondering if the next sleep

will be death,

“this greeny flower,”

this green

comes to you

the power of life







What you discover in such a situation

is what Rousseau called

le néant des choses humaines

the nothingness of human affairs

Adelle’s concerns—the laundry, our finances,

her plants, dinner, people at AC Transit, people

in the local community, poetry people, whether

I parked the car close enough to the curb,

her VISA card, the Toyota, her haiku, the goldfish, me,

the light in the leaves as she passed by in the morning,

credit cards, J.R.R. Tolkien, Octavia Butler, Miss Fisher’s Murder

Mysteries, the egrets at Lake Merritt,

the homeless on her way to AC Transit

(to whom she gave money and boxes of raisins),

her son and daughter in law,

hundreds of others

in a complex web of caring—

all disappeared poof in a few moments

on the afternoon of June 25, 2016

in a Kaiser hospital room

when she fainted in “septic shock” and her dear heart stopped.

Suddenly, all of that was gone

as if it never existed

le néant des choses humaines

I remember it, some of it—even most of it—but for her

it’s a spider web someone brushed off a window—


It is this that we make poems and stories and beautiful lies

to avoid:

this sudden view

when a long-loved, long-known, long-accepted person dies

& we see it

deep and clear





AUGUST 15, 2016


It’s your birthday

My dear, dead love

I had begun a birthday poem

My wife

My life

And had already bought some gifts for you

A Monday—Moon Day

“Looney” in our Dellwackian fantasy

Who paired with the tiny sun,

“Salvador Dully”

You made a cartoon for me

Eight days before your death

(Six before the day

You forever lost consciousness)

I am trying to find

Another life to fit me

But what could ever fit me

So well as the life we made

As Moon and Sun

As Dell Dell and Jack Wack

As the EEE Monster

And the DDD Monster

As all the phantasmagoria

That rose out of our love,

That kept our love

Forever alive:

They never stopped loving

Even when you and I faltered

They wondered why Dellwackia

Suddenly looked

Like a hospital room.

I’ve cooked dinner for you tonight

Polpette, purpettes,

A meal you loved

That came from my mother’s

Long Calabrese line.

Dear friends will join me

And then we’ll watch

A favorite film:

Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent

Looney and Salvador Dully

Will watch it too

And Dell Dell and Jack Wack

And the Monsters.

Everyone loves

The poems I’ve been writing

About your death

You were always my Muse

And today is the birthday

You could not celebrate.

Our love remains

In all these figures

In all these words

While you

Whirl through the universe

(If such things are true)

Forgetting birth and death

Forgetting Dellwackia and me

Remembering only

The deep configurations

Of Life and Love.


[The names mentioned are cartoon characters in a joint fantasy that Adelle and I maintained for years. We drew pictures for each other and gave the characters voices. She was Dell Dell — a name her father gave to her when she was a child. I, “J.W. Foley,” was Jack Wack. The DDD Monster and the EEE Monster, etc., all figured into this fantasy, which took place in a country named for the queen and king: Dellwackia. We had a ritual for turning out the bedroom lights at night. The Dellwackians didn’t understand electricity, but they would all gather and in their various voices “blow out the candle.” After the lights were out, I would say, “’Night, Dell.” She would answer, “’Night, Wack.” The lights are still on in our bedroom.]




YAHRZEIT (June 27, 2017)

for Adelle 


It is

What the Jews call Yahrzeit,

A year since your death. 

The word stings.

If you retain any consciousness of the world

You know 

That I have found a new love. 

She has been 

A wonder and a comfort

In my grief for you. 

I think you would have liked her

(And mothered her!).

Going through your dresser drawer

As we attempt to find room for her things,

She found

A fancy, almost comically sexy garter. 

I had forgotten it

But recognized it immediately. 

You wore it only once,

On the night of December 21, 1961,

Our wedding night;

You kept it, as you kept many other things, for all these years. 

How we formed each other. 

How we treasured each other’s hearts. 

If the stories are true,

You may be in bliss

While I find my way through this quivering wall of sorrow and tears.

And love.

My first love, my dear first love,

It has been a year

(Has it been a year?),



Your ashes 

Remain     in the vanishing morning light.

[N.B. GRIEF SONGS is currently available at SPD: $15.00]