Proof of existence

I see hair as proof
of existence, a souvenir.
A mourned dog, a dreamlike state,
a snippet of conversation.
The line of light has held.
You listen to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”
and feel the pulse of some other reality
flow through your veins ↔
as if there is something you can’t recall.

None of the words in the poem above are mine.

It’s a combistory, this one combining one sentence each from five different artworks, artist statements or texts I viewed online this week. The authors of these sentences, in order of presentation, are:

A long time ago, a friend I had to say goodbye to took some strands of his hair and shaped them into a head and face. He fastened them to the page of his goodbye letter with Scotch tape, a memento of him and our friendship. A part of his physical being I could carry with me out into the new world I was walking toward. Proof of his existence. He told me that day I was one of the few people who holds him to the earth.

I only saw him once after that.

We had a terrible misunderstanding. I offered him something and didn’t follow through. Something he was depending on, the lack of which put him in a bind when I couldn’t give it. Our friendship collapsed. Not because he couldn’t forgive me.

Because I couldn’t forgive myself.

The body has instincts for grieving, Traci Brimhall says in her beautifully textured and layered essay. She tells about Janet Willis who, every day for a hundred days, made art from her mother’s dried funeral flowers and posted a photo of her creation on instagram. She describes her own process of making crocheted blankets for hospice, one a month for a year.

I so desperately needed a grief ritual last year after my mother died. We couldn’t have a funeral because of the pandemic. For months I tried to figure out how to grieve. There’s my downfall, always: trying to figure things out instead of trusting my body and its instincts.

On the last day of December I sat to write a year-end post for this blog. I didn’t know when I started that I was creating a grief ritual. By the time I finished the post, I had wept an ocean. All the losses I sustained last year. I named them. Felt them. Grieved them.

Let them go.

And then yesterday, as I wrote to a friend about the loss of her father, an old grief shook my body. The loss of my father 12 years ago.

Here’s what I’ve learned. Grief isn’t something we work through or let go. We carry it with us. Always. It’s as much a part of us as joy.

It is proof of love’s existence.

The image at the top of this post of a woman braiding her hair is by Melanie Bilenker, an artist whose medium is her own hair. She says this about her work:

Using a drawing technique inspired by historic hairwork, I glue individual strands to paper in an attempt to preserve and show fleeting time so that it can be revisited. I aim for authenticity, to make an image look the way it feels. Hair represents a person, intimacy, a moment left behind, something shed.

You can see more of Melanie Bilenker’s work here and here. I hope you’ll take a look and also follow the links to the work of the other artists in this week’s combistory. That’s the whole point of this combinatory play.

7 Responses to “Proof of existence”

  1. carin

    Oh, your beautiful words on grief… and your wonderful (wonder filled) combistories. Have found some marvels through these links and they enrich my days, so thank you for your excellent art/blog/joy-finding radar and your beautiful heart.

    Making tea to enjoy the latest offerings.

  2. Joan Conway

    Once again, exploring your combistory, I am astounded at the depth of your layering. So many facets for all of the senses including the imagination. Mostly I am moved by your reflections on grief, the idea of grief rituals, and creating art as a living process to honor as you so well put, a continual journey that is often shirked in our society. Amazingly powerful!

  3. Doris Ray

    Hi Leslie, I love your words on the subject of grief. I particularly like your conclusion that grief is ‘proof’ of our existence.
    Thank you! You are a wonderfully descriptive writer.

  4. judith mackay

    ‘Here’s what I’ve learned. Grief isn’t something we work through or let go. We carry it with us. Always. It’s as much a part of us as joy.

    It is proof of love’s existence.’

    Ah, yes. Simple words of truth, and beauty.

  5. commatologist

    Thank you Carin, Joan, Doris and Judith, for being here with me. Much love to you. xo

  6. Diane

    Oh such necessary stories. I understand that state of needing a grief ritual. It’s something I struggled with after my mom died. Tore me to pieces.
    Your instincts led you to an incredibly meaningful process. I really love how you’ve come to feel about grief — so very eloquently said.

    • commatologist

      Thank you, Diane. I hope you’ve found some solace in the wake of your mother’s death.


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