Branch in His Hand Cover

Branch In His Hand

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In Branch in His Hand, a boy falls to his death and a mother sings a requiem in poems. The reader will not ever forget the Italy that he loved, or the wall from which he fell. Charde takes us to Italy, to the wall: “A fissure in the wall like / a wound . . .” and to the sea, in search of healing. In these brutally honest, beautiful poems, we face the death of one who is dearly loved, and recognize, as the poet says, “that grief is at least part of what you / will grow into.

Pat Schneider
author of Writing Alone and with Others
and founder of Amherst Writers & Artists

To sing songs of praise for Sharon Charde’s bold new collection, Branch in His Hand, would tell only half the story. Our songs should be those of gratitude and of astonishment as well—gratitude for her courage and her clarity, and astonishment that she is able to lead us into the darkest night of loss, and in many places suspend us there long enough for us to remember how time is suspended when we are grieving, and at the same time somehow push and pull us through it into a place where the first dawn of a new day has always been there waiting for us. With deliberate, dangerous control, Charde takes us on her own personal journey through death, despair, isolation, and, ultimately, transformation, but what is remarkable is that at some mysterious point in the book she gives us the reins and the journey becomes our own. Not since Marie Howe showed us in What the Living Do in times of unspeakable grief and suffering has a writer so bridged the most intimate and universal places where death finds us and brings us to our knees and then raises us back up again. Charde teaches us, poem by beautiful poem, that the only thing a serious poet can do with the unsayable is say it. With her extraordinary emotional integrity, exquisite eye for detail, and sometimes painful precision with language, Charde teaches us what it is like to lose one’s heart to loss and to find it there as well.

Lisa Starr
Poet Laureate of Rhode Island

Branch in His Hand begins with the author learning of her son’s sudden death and then records the years that follow. With
unswerving directness and skill, Sharon Charde chronicles the details of how a particular death is woven into a particular life. With a daring lack of sentimentality, she makes a universal tale that has the impact of powerful drama. I dare you to read this book.

Karen Chase
author of Kazimierz Square, Bear, and Land of Stone


ROME, 1987

The wisteria was especially purple
that spring, the dogwood dazzling
as we walked up the Aventine
to our son’s school, his happiness
reaching out to us like another flower
drawing us forward full into its scent.
For nine months he had lived here
learning. How proud he was of his
Italian, that he looked like an Italian
in his leather jacket, he had become
Italian since he’d left us, my genes
had blossomed in him. He was fluent,
so filled with the language it had carried
us through Viarregio, Pietrasanta, Florence,
Venice, Siena and Rome.

Though we were foreigners we were still
his kin, and he allowed our presence, this
Italian son. We left him to go home
wondering if he would ever want
to return. When the carabinieri
found him lying by the Tiber
that morning they even thought
he was Italian, an Italian drug addict,
they pushed up the sleeves
of his leather jacket looking for tracks.
What did they do with our boy then?
He already smelled of death, the night
had taken him. Did they put him
into an ambulance, take him
to a pronto succorse? No, that
would have been for saving a life--
it was our lives that needed saving then.


My boys were Catholic by the water
from Saint Francis de Sales on Baltimore,
West Philly. I stopped it by the time
they were three and four; it was the priests
preaching our badness that got to me.
I thought I’d teach them something else--
the meaning of life here, not hereafter,
how splendid dew looks on the tip of a leaf,
to hold a woman’s hand in the light just before dark,
what comes after making love.
I don’t know if I did.

When I called about the cemetery plot
Father wanted the baptismal certificate--
he must see it, the original. No burial
in sacred ground without one. After the seller
had checked our deed we were finally free
to inspect the subdivision of standing stones,
pick out a spot for his cement vault and us.
I was wearing Geoff’s Grateful Dead tie-dye,
my husband and living son in shorts. I like it here,
No here is better, we’d call out to each other
in our macabre search. Torn, finally, between two
plots, we decided he’d be most at home
by the shed where they dumped the dead
gladiolas and browning Christmas wreaths,
near the open field.