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The vulnerability of sharing loss

Knowing Rolf: A Wreath for My Son. Kathryn Christenson. North Mankato: Corporate Graphics. 2012. Softbound. 46 pages. $11.95. To order: 800/847-9307 or
Don’t tell anyone you write poetry. They immediately envision saccharin sweet odes of adoration from one adolescent tween to another. While that maybe is where many poets start, that should not be where we stay.
Poetry is for those times in life when we are at the very edges of our emotions and there is no other way to express the depth of what we are going through. This is where we find Kathryn Christenson in her latest anthology of poetry, Knowing Rolf: A Wreath for My Son.
Christenson’s son Rolf was killed in a motorcycle accident in February of 1997 while he was on active military duty. Knowing Rolf is a collection of the poems that came out of that dark time, as well as the ones that were written in Rolf’s earliest times. The poetry is accompanied by many pictures of Rolf as a child, as a young man and soldier, and finally the photos of his tombstone.
The poetry is not a simple read. It is the kind that makes you tear your five-year-old daughter away from her play so that you can hold her tightly and pray for a long, uncomplicated life.

Christenson tells us that memory is selective and can be persistent. It is through her memories that we experience loss.

We learn to know Rolf, watching intently through his mother’s eyes as he grows and takes on the responsibilities of guarding the Tomb of the Unknowns.
The totality of a mother’s pain on the death of her child is the heart of this collection. We walk with Christenson through all the foreboding and the actuality of that day. We find ourselves running for cover with her when the skies open up and pour down rain as she is laying flowers at Rolf’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery. Christenson tells us that memory is selective and can be persistent. It is through her memories that we experience loss.
This collection, though slim, is a work to be treasured. It is to be set aside and read at a time when you can allow yourself to be as vulnerable as Christenson is in the sharing of her son. In discovering where she finds his spirit alive, she is welcoming us into the joy and the pain of knowing Rolf. God grant that all of us would be as deeply loved as Rolf.
Knowing Rolf can be purchased at the Book Mark at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. The proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the Ronald S. and Rolf S. Christenson Scholarship in Political Science at Gustavus Adolphus College.
Melissa Pohlman is pastor of Christ English Lutheran Church (ELCA) in North Minneapolis. She is herself a poet.

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