Published in the Sycamore Review in 2004, Amy Gerstler’s “Watch” has provided a series of thought and reflection for many readers, myself included. Gerstler, described as “one of the best poets in the nation” by the Los Angeles Times, lost her father to a heart attack two years prior to writing “Watch.” Her story of picking up her father’s watch from the coroner’s office, included in the 2005 edition of Best American Poetry, reflects how she dealt with grief and loss in a way acceptable to that of a poet: by writing.
The poem first caught my eye as I was skimming through the pages of my Best American Poetry book. When I read the title, I decided to read the rest, because I hadn’t found a poem that I liked and I was slowly growing desperate, and I have a fondness toward watches. The more and more I read, the more I realized how I was not connected to the watch, but to the writer herself. I, too, lost a parent prematurely, and as I read further, I could understand the emotion and thought process of Mrs. Gerstler as I remember the days following my mother’s passing.
This does not mean I was not connected to the watch, however. After the funeral and crying and mourning and phone calls from friends and family, I remember staring at my mother’s watch as it laid on a dresser in my father’s room. There was a picture of her, among other photographs, and I remember staring right at her watch that she previously wore as it continued ticking after each second, unaware that there was no one wearing it to check the time. It was obviously natural for me to have been attracted to this poem, and that became clear the further I read.
After all, time is all my family had. When my mother’s cancer got worse and worse, it was literally only a matter of time. All these doctors speak of how much time we can squeeze out of someone’s life as if it’s the only thing that matters. As if life was only a matter of seconds and not of days filled with laughter and friends, of mornings and afternoons, of hugging your children when they come home from school and drinking your favorite tea in the comfort of your own house, surrounded by your own family in your own clothes, enjoying all that life has to offer.
Death is such an unexpected expected thing; we are all condemned to die after we are born. We live our lives knowing it will eventually end. Time is relative. We can (theoretically) expand it and compress it, but we cannot go back in time. All watches represent is the time that has past, the time that is passing, and the time we have left.
Perhaps Gerstler’s poem is not solely on death, but how those decide to spend their life while it still ticks. Perhaps there is more to life, a higher being, a place for those to rest… or perhaps life is merely a watch, slowly counting down the seconds until its inevitable replacement. Perhaps it is better off that way. I pray for those who have passed to find clarity, for those who live to find meaning, and for those unknown to have a purpose.