The Alchemy of Grief (Alchimia del dolore)

Ferrara, Emily

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Bertman, Sandra
  • Date of entry: Dec-27-2007
  • Last revised: Dec-31-2007


Born with aortic stenosis in 1984, Adam Ferrara Jasheway died suddenly at age nineteen of cardiac arrest. Dedicated to the memory of her son, this collection poignantly charts a mother's trajectory of grief. The poems are divided/organized into six sections paralleling the process of alchemy: calcinatio (burning by fire), solutio (dissolving in water), sublimatio (rising in air), coagulatio (falling to earth), mortificatio (decaying), and transmutatio (healing).


Allusions to the elements (“There is nowhere / to hide from/your absence. I drown in spaciousness”), to other poets and their words ("Rumi tells me / death has nothing to do/with going away / but I know he is wrong.”), even to deconstructing sorrow according to Chinese calligraphy characters (“Mouth and Clothes become /cry of mourning”) crystalize as they convey the immensity and pervasiveness of a mother’s grief. The winter after his death, she writes of the alter she made in his room and of wearing his clothes: “You never wear your own clothes anymore” / says my daughter, wondering/ what’s become of her mother). Later, before her firstborn's ashes are finally released "into clear, sun-filled air," she writes of weighing his cremated ashes (“Six-and-three-quarter pounds / you weighed, two pounds less than at birth.”)

As in Denise Levertov's poem, Talking to Grief, the "healing" or transmutation of grief is only plausible, if even possible, after grief is totally experienced and integrated into one’s being. Bad News in the ER" would be an excellent companion piece to Raymond Carver's What the Doctor Said.



Translated by Sabine Pascarelli. This book won the 2006 Bordighera Poetry Prize. The Bordighera Poetry Prize is dedicated to finding the best manuscript of American poetry to be translated into Italian to create a bi-lingual text.


Bordighera Press

Place Published

New York, NY



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