Life and Loss

With grace and humor, a poet tackles mortality, mourning, and resilience.

Photo of Judy Michaels

In her fifth poetry collection, This Morning the Mountain, Judy Rowe Michaels M.A. ’67, Ph.D. ’74 (pictured at right), explores such universal themes as loneliness, heartbreak, and death. She also celebrates love and laughter.

Michaels, who for many years served as poet in residence, English teacher, and coordinator of aesthetic education at Princeton Day School, has won many awards and fellowships and taught poetry workshops around the country. She is also a seven-time cancer patient who gives talks on ovarian cancer to New Jersey and New York medical school classes.

The poems in This Morning the Mountain reflect a time in Rowe’s life when a sixth bout of cancer coincided with the grief of her husband’s sudden death after 44 years of marriage. Here are two of the poems that appear in the volume.


Looking for Signs

We offered my entrails for the priests to read,
and my blood. A sign should be
familiar—pollen fingering a pond
is spring. Summer, the shock and awe of locusts.

Love blush, belly bloat.
Know your body, they tell me,
but often it’s the old
too fast for me to read.

Of course, every sign
was new once, unknowable—
first comet, first dog refusing water.

Still, by Christmas we saw
where this star led,
and clung hard to the dying year.


The Cat and I Listen to
Ella Fitzgerald

You liked your jazz
wordless, except for Sunny’s vocals,
your face, she claimed,
like Gerard Depardieu’s.
Ella’s not so sure,
but she’s having a blast
with Cole and it’s the first night
since chemo I’ve felt like me,
well, not the you-and-me one,
but a me you’d recognize.
Ella says the moon’s growing
dim on the rim of the hill,
and her thoughts all stray to you.
It’s not the still of the night really,
with her voice soaring toward
rain pounding the roof.
It never rains in Cole’s songs,
but tonight, New Jersey
pours like it was born to weep.
Your ashes wait patiently
at the funeral home for me,
deaf to rain and rhyme,
to music and stillness.