SYMPTOMS OF GRIEF | Sallie McCann Tupper


grief appears in the body
as much as in the spirit.
first a patient may notice
the heart and stomach 
sag with the condensate
of accumulated exhaustion,
fear, and sadness.

at critical mass,
it starts to drip drop into the lungs,
wherefore the torso spasms, spurting them upward,
out of the fountain of one’s eyes,

and this is how grief exits the body.

a patient may notice that while
one round of distilling and purging
is constructive, even cleansing,
it can take many rinses until
the water runs clear.
a patient wishing for total healing
should expect to rinse and repeat,
rinse and repeat,
rinse and repeat;
as many times as necessary.



Sallie McCann Tupper and her husband enjoy living in Lancaster City with a community of friends. You can find Sallie spending time outside in her garden or in the woods, observing neighborhood animals, organizing her whole house, or cooking delicious food. She reads and writes fervently, and finds it almost impossible to read a good book without underlining and dog-earing the best parts. She writes poems to underline and dog-ear the small and sacred moments of life. Find more of her work on Instagram — @sallie_mccanntupper.



Callahan, Henry. “Camera Movement of Street Lights.” 1942.

Callahan, Henry. “Camera Movement of Street Lights.” 1942.

Stalks of incense,
once lit,
continue burning
even if blown out.

They can’t stop.
The burning is on the inside.

The ember
races to the base
of the stem,
irreversible, no brakes.

And you don’t
— can’t —
launch yourself away,
tumbling to a stop
once you leave the moving object

what’s moving is

Hurtling toward
that goal floating
in the distance,
you can’t tell until
you’re closer
and the air clears -
was it really what you

This poem came out of a season when I was contemplating a couple major life changes but hadn't "flicked the match" yet. Having gone through yet another season of change since then, and now settling into the results of it, I am struck again by all that is set in motion when we make a decision to try, whether that's trying something new, re-trying something old, or just trying something different.

The results can almost never be predicted, yet we still must decide if we want to go forward with it. Do we choose the unsatisfactory known, or the complete unknown? Do we choose into a mystery that may be better than what we have? Or do we settle in? What might Jesus be calling us to? Surely he is with us in either direction, but is one better? I believe both the choice to change and the choice not to change can be made from integrity; change might not always be worth it, and change for the sake of change is inevitably exhausting.

And what you know
now is this;

a pebble starts a landslide but
you have to make a move
because there’s the burning of
or there’s the burning of
a slow suffocation
without change.

flick the match.

In this season, soon after the change of the year, we’ve probably all thought recently about what changes we want to make in the new year. I might plan to slowly make an adjustment, but my most satisfying and successful changes have been more like throwing myself down a hill. So my advice? If you decide you want change in your life, make your change like a stick of incense; set something on fire and don't turn back. Give yourself to the changes you want to make and see what happens.


Kaar, Virginia. “January"." 1935/42.

Kaar, Virginia. “January"." 1935/42.

i did it.
i quit that job,
mumbled through
an explanation
of the thread exiting my chest,
pulling me somewhere else,
thrusting me forward.
toward what?
all I could say about it
at the time
“i just feel like there’s something
inside me chanting steadily:
make something.”

and to find out who and what and why
i have to obey, to try
to make something beautiful
to say something worth saying.”

so far i think
all i’ve really learned to say is
“pay attention!”
in one hundred and forty three
different ways.
but I think even that
does bear repeating
until we do it
until we look
until we see what’s around us
and sing
and fall to our knees.

Pouring my tea in near dark, I pour blindly, waiting for the glint of light on water which means I’ve filled my cup to the brim. This is how the dark pours into the winter day, until it’s full to the brim at the end of a long twilight. The stars dance, and the world turns its shadowed face around to meet the next day’s sun. Both are experiences best lived paying close attention. Yet it’s also one of the hardest times to pay attention, these glimpses of sun buried in long nights. The sun is in no hurry at this time of year, the beginning of January, the cycle rolled back round toward lengthening, but still brief, days. We lull and luxuriate in these long nights, sleepy and slow to rise. It’s easy to let our eyelids droop when it seems not much is happening in the world outside. Paying attention is hard in the dark; we are forced to turn inward.

Open eyes, internal or external, always get you far; but to stay awake during this season we must stoke the imagination, which is needed for hope to keep alive. We must imagine: seeds resting underground, their fertility preserved and preparing for spring -- animal friends going torpid, living off of stockpiled food and fat -- burrows in the snow and fluffed feathers -- and finally we must imagine the year ahead, arcing forward with all its joys and woes, our mental image frayed at the edges, where inevitably the unimaginable will occur.

As we pour blindly into the cup of 2019, let us live the experience of this year paying close attention, watching for the glint on the water. May we let ourselves rest in the cradle of the long nights, while staying internally aware, feeding our imaginations from our stockpile, living alive in each moment and also dreaming for what is to come.


Photo: K. Dagen

Photo: K. Dagen


do you send out
the ones you choose
into the wilderness -
like john, like us,
searching for zion -
so that we may know
what it’s like to be fiercely alone
(sometimes in a sea of faces)
and feel desperately lost
(sometimes in dark and crowded spaces)
like your son, like jesus?

for the world and
full of love,
but so alone,
your only son.

i love you that
you sent a child
to rescue all these
hearts gone wild.

sometimes i fear
my heart’s gone wild.


Photo: K. Dagen

Photo: K. Dagen

“the world is so dark
and we need you again.”
thought john the baptist,
breathing out, breathing in
the desert air, nestled deep in camel hair,
lighting up the way before him;
the paths left behind a little more straight
a little more smooth, and a little less dim.

alone in the night,
how did he feel?
the first of the prophets
after four hundred years
of silence and waiting,
darkness and hope and anticipating?

himself a light
proclaiming the light,
that had already been born that night
some thirty years before, not long behind him,
both sent by the wind and spirit-minded.

before you come again, i wonder
will there be another one that thunders
in the spirit of elijah
to ready us and steady us
and light up this crooked world before us?

but that spirit’s been here
for two thousand years
destroying hard hearts and drying up tears
lighting up cities, illuminating fears,
giving us breath and opening our ears,
until that one day, one final collision,
before this valley of the shadow of death
becomes the everlasting bright-lit valley of vision.