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“I’m sorry for your loss.” “They lived a good life.” “She’s in a better place now.” Clichés proliferate in the face of loss. A cliché—the word comes from the French verb “clicher,” meaning “to click”—posits language as enclosure, the thing that snaps shut to contain unruly feelings. Andrea Cohen’s “Refusal to Mourn” begins with the rote language of decorum, but the short poem’s final line breeches the social contract. If mourning is the process by which loss is metabolized so it doesn’t disrupt ordinary routines, to refuse to mourn is to insist that the ordinary is senseless in the face of great loss. After all, as the poet June Jordan wrote, “In the context of tragedy, all polite behavior is a form of denial.” Nothing can take the place of what is gone; nothing will keep that wound shut. I’ve been holding Cohen’s poem under my tongue since I first read it, and it’s helped me to keep from swallowing what shouldn’t be.

– Claire Schwartz

Listen to Andrea Cohen read “Refusal to Mourn.”

Refusal to Mourn

In lieu of
flowers, send
him back.


Andrea Cohen’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Her most recent poetry collections are Everything, Nightshade, and Unfathoming. Cohen directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, MA.