Wondrous by Sarah Freligh

I’m driving home from school when the radio talk
turns to E.B. White, his birthday, and I exit
the here and now of the freeway at rush hour,

travel back into the past, where my mother is reading
to my sister and me the part about Charlotte laying her eggs
and dying, and though this is the fifth time Charlotte

has died, my mother is crying again, and we’re laughing
at her because we know nothing of loss and its sad math,
how every subtraction is exponential, how each grief

multiplies the one preceding it, how the author tried
seventeen times to record the words She died alone
without crying, seventeen takes and a short walk during

which he called himself ridiculous, a grown man crying
for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention —
wondrous how those words would come back and make

him cry, and, yes, wondrous to hear my mother’s voice
ten years after the day she died — the catch, the rasp,
the gathering up before she could say to us, I’m OK.


I feel I want to start by saying, if you have never read Charlotte’s Web, please make time for it in your lifetime. It is a story of such tenderness and loving that it is clearly not meant just for children. The poem begins with hearing on the radio about the birthday of the author, E.B.White, and she exits the here and now of the freeway at rush hour – already we know we are on the trail of a worthy story. Such stories are indeed wondrous.

The poet takes us directly to the key point, how the spider, Charlotte, bravely dies after laying her eggs, and how Freligh’s mother, reading to her and her sister, cries for the fifth time at this part. The girls are laughing because we know nothing of loss and its sad math, in that way that children haven’t yet learned how each grief / multiplies the one preceding it. In three short lines, she captures the essence of grieving in her ‘sad math’ equation.

She tells us that White, in recording his story, could not get out the words She died alone, feeling ridiculous about crying for a spider he’d spun out of the silk thread of invention. It becomes so clear that though the spider is an invention, the grief evoked is not. Freligh marvels that ten years after the day she died, her mother’s voice is still clear to her – the catch, the rasp, / the gathering up before she can go on. One senses that the grief for her own mother’s death is contained in this poem, a story within a story.

23 thoughts on “Wondrous by Sarah Freligh

  1. This is sheer beauty. I felt it in my bones. Those bones are still grieving 3 significant losses within 2 weeks only 2 months ago. The story about White and the mother and the author all three filled with the truth of grief! Thank you.


  2. This is such a special poem JanIce.

    Thank you and thank you again. It conjures up my mother reading to me and also my reading to My children and grandchildren. Tears flowing and trying to get the knot out of my throat to continue.

    Beautiful and so relatable.



    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Trudy, it won’t be relatable for everyone perhaps but there will always be those touching stories that create that knot in the throat, that bring tears that are not just sadness. xoxo


  4. Thanks for another heart opening post Jan. It troubles me a decade on that I have been unable to grieve well the loss of my Mom. It was and still is a complicated, uneasy relationship. I must reread (or properly read for the first time) that classic story for all ages.


    • Not sure any of us know how to grieve well Elaine, especially for those complicated uneasy relationships. Charlotte’s Web is not about a mother/daughter relationship, but it is about friendship and love and caring – all of which we can all use more of. xoxo


  5. Oh my goodness Jan…thank you for this unknown to me poet and poem which brings me tears….so perfectly beautiful, so precious and profound. That ever true feeling of loss being connected to love. So tender.

    Liked by 1 person

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