One Great Thing about “Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (Complicated Grief)”

Screen Shot 2018-03-21 at 4.10.29 PMDear friends —

The violence of loss is palpable in the pared down couplets of Chelsea Dingman’s poem “Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder (Complicated Grief)” in Phoebe Journal. Each line cuts like an unexpected wind across exposed skin. It incants in a way that wracks and wracks against the reader, violent grief from everywhere.

Nature is the common thread through this particular loss. A woman bent in childbirth, “orphaned forget-me-nots,” a doe that visits and then doesn’t, a growing belly, emptying trees, blackbirds with “threadbare wings.” In its relation to nature, the poem becomes a study of deep, unending grief. It dissects loss, points to how it infiltrates from everywhere, from even the places you think you can trust. This poem pulls back the skin to reveal how sometimes grief gets into your marrow, replaces life with empty space, becomes something unshakeable. The core of you now built of loss.


“Let me know,” “let me know” the speaker begs. In the wake of loss, we beg to know. We want a warning of what was to come. And in the begging the speaker is exhausted even with the idea of loss: “I’m tired / of mourning what is lost here…” This grief has gone beyond the waves we all know and has become a diagnosable condition.

One of the symptoms of Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder is “persistent feelings of emptiness.” This poem does what a DSM-5 definition cannot. Dingman’s language shows how grief leaves the speaker hollowed out like the dead creature the blackbirds circle, hollowed out like branches as “The green season recedes,” hollowed out like a womb, hollowed out like a child you can’t hold (“The child who hanged herself / inside me before birth”), hollowed out like violence with no necessity or mercy.

The poem ends with the hollow of questions that plead, like beating against the trunk of a tree waiting for it to answer. I would argue that this poem does what the best poetry does: it gathers us, both writer and readers, into a space where we can sit side by side silently, with the wind echoing through our own particular hollow spaces, asking unanswerable questions.

Yours in words,



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