Tag Archives: death

January Dreamers

The sleepers wake in January
and wring their white hands.

They turn to each other,
pale and damp, and say,

did you feel that? A sort
of wave in the air, 

a plunge in the temperature?
Maybe we dreamed it. 

Maybe it will go back
to how it was. Maybe, even,

it’s still the same and we know
it will go back. Yes, we’re sure

of it. Let’s stay up a little while
and wait for that and then

we can fall again to sleep
under the warm cover.

So they sit up and wait
until the air cracks even colder.

They shrug and go back 
to sleep, dreaming 

they will always have enough cover
to stay warm, dreaming

of spring’s return,
of fire on the hearth at home,

all the way to Beyond The Cold,
back to the Used To Be;

when they do not wake,
their dreams having been  

trumped by the cold,
they are eventually pulled

from their beds and tossed
alive and unbelieving into

newly built pyres
of an ancient design.


Studies

What the just-born have learned:
how to breathe. How to 
sleep and wake. How to be terrified 
and then be loved. Hunger,
cold, how to cry for all apparent
and invisible reasons and 
have no regrets for being alive. 

What the just-deceased have learned:
how to fall asleep and stop
breathing. How to be loved,
terrified; how to surrender hunger
as they cool. How crying works;
how regrets do not. 

Somewhere in between,
some days closer to one,
some days the other, you will find
the rest of us, grading on the curve
or praying for pass-fail.  You will find us
hoping for an incomplete, a make-up,
extra credit. You will find us as we
rarely find ourselves:

working too damn hard.


Immortality

I fell off a mountain
while reaching for
the next mountain

I fell a long time

and when I landed on 
the same mountain I had fallen from

I lifted my head from the ruins
of my body
and was free

to go leaping
peak to peak
through the range

When I saw one last mountain before me
I touched one toe upon it
for closure then
plunged into 
the trenches of the ocean

and slid through those waters
from depth to shore
to depth again until
with this path
I’d stitched all the planet together

and when I’d done this

there were so many stars overhead
and so many worlds left

You lie to the children
saying
be afraid to die
stay forever safe

while I speed among the stars
and 
you can’t even tell 
that I have died


Frogs (Sprung)

When I was a boy I walked often
to a pond near my house that was full with debris
and car parts and dark water and duck weed
and frogs who made a deep “sprung” noise
at intervals.

Later on I built a shelter not far from there
with a small fire-pit and I’d sneak away at night
to drink or smoke by myself when I hated people
and I’d listen to the “sprung” noises of the bullfrogs
going on all night.

I am often afraid as an adult to open my eyes
right before dawn or at any time really 
because I spend so much time listening to those frogs
going “sprung-sprung-sprung” in my head
wherever I am.

It is at its worst when I dwell too long in places
that remind me of the oil-shine and stink of the water
in that little pond, really no more than a drain-off
from who knows what past failed industry, thick with
the “sprung” of poisoned bullfrogs.

I expect one day a frog will leap out of there and into
my hands and take over their function and instead
of writing or kneading bread or making a guitar work
some magic they will turn reeking and oily and from them
will issue a “sprung” sound

as I shove a gun into my mouth.


Job Description

I make a lot of money
as a dead person.

You living
jump out of your skins to pay me

when my ill wind blows
in your faces. 

You ask me where I spend it
and how I came by this job?

I answer by touching you
on the back of your neck.

Then I move one finger down 
to the base of your tailbone. Feel that?

You shiver, I get paid.
Each tremble is a buck I can trade

for coins taken from corpse eyes.
Those are useful here. I’d explain

the economy of the afterworld,
but it would take too long.

Enough to say food and shelter and insurance
aren’t necessary. More on that later — 

to answer the second question,
if you must know

I took the job in a moment of
gun-facilitated despair some years ago.

I think you call me a ghost,
but I’m not that different from you.

I walk through things you have to walk around,
that’s all. It’s not bad work.

I do get so bored with you,
but you never

get bored with me. Not too shabby,
that power to remain electrifying

to the dull living. That’s where
most of my income goes: paying for

the opportunity to remain memorable.
Not everyone gets such a chance.

It almost makes that last flash of pain
worth it. 


Dominion Of The Dead

fuck zombies and
fuck vampires

it’s the truly dead
we should fear most

their dead hands
come up out of their graves
grab us by the ankles and
plead with us  
to keep everything the same

demand that
we keep the same laws and industries
they had when they were alive
hold the same prejudices and illusions
follow the same religions

everything’s changing
and they want us
to live stale 

fuck the fascination
with vampires
and zombies

fear instead
grandma and grandpa

and our other departed heroes
who remain dead yet
in death work so hard to smother
the dynamics of life

fear instead the tug
of our love for them
our wish to honor them
that keeps us from change

that holds us
too long in thrall

to the dominion
of our beloved dead


Peace In The Shrug

Peace in the shrug
as you pull the first two red tomatoes
from your garden only to notice
they’ve been consumed
by bottom rot, the chagrin
you feel at not catching that
earlier, the casual toss into
the base of the fence,
the sudden awareness
of the nearly ripe cucumber 
hanging on that fence.

Peace in the shrug
at choices made, choices
that failed to pan out, choices
that went south or north or
every direction not on the compass
without an ounce of malice from anyone
involved, people living their lives
that did or did not intersect with 
your own, and the failure
of will, the utter failure of
all your will, then one day
the twenty dollar bill on the ground
at the foot of the pay phone where
you just spent your last dime, and that
was thirty years ago,
and how you remember it, and how
it pays you even today.

Peace in the shrug
at the end of the world, the end
of order and justice, the shambling
walk of the long-awaited Beast,
the pseudo-shambolic walk of the
Giant No, the edible flesh of 
Harmony, the smacking of 
thin jaws around the bones of
All You’ve Held Dear, and now
at the very close of the last snap
of those jaws the silence
of the sunset, and the dawn
beyond your own experience
that will come, that will surely
come even without you.

Peace in the shrug
as you pass, with your last thought
forming around how the seeds
from the tomatoes you tossed
will grow there in the dirt along the fence 
as long as rain falls and sun shines
next season, with or without you
there to moan, or wail,
or shrug such miracles off
as too little, too late, 
when they were never meant 
to feed you.


A Small Remnant, A Small Revision, A Reclamation

on my driveway
a small cloud of flies above
a small drift of feathers
in blue and gray.  

a small remnant
and a small 
revision.
a reclamation

of what is always left over.

flies are sometimes
the sole reason I feel
hope — 
a small buzz of hope only
as i am unsurprisingly 
somewhat reserved
in my enthusiasm 
for any hope
found that way
because of what
must precede it.

the flies
live and breed
where death is.
they follow death
and rise from it.

i must take my hope,
however sticky,
however distasteful, 
where I find it.


The Shell Game

On the day I will likely die
I will not likely be heroic,
falling for a cause in a leaden rain,
protecting others with torn flesh.

It’s not at all clear today
how I’ll die on that day, of course,
but it likely won’t happen during
some last stand for my beliefs,
some war for my soul,
some battle I choose
or one that comes to me 
against my will
only to be grimly faced
by me as warrior,
me as fighter,
me as memorial in waiting.

I will likely not be mourned
by those who never knew me
but who may choose to honor me
based 
solely on what symbolic message
my death will send.  I will likely not
show up on an historic death list
afterward, commemorated yearly
by ceremonies, bowed heads
in a classroom or office,
a pretty average song
written by a pretty average songwriter
played on a pretty average radio station.

No.

When I go, I’ll likely be bedridden,
poor in dollars and cents and sense, 
shitting and pissing myself,
wispy under stiff yellowed sheets
in a stiff, puke-green room;

or just as likely
I’ll be in whatever passes for my own home
doing all those same things unattended;

or just as likely
I’ll pass in a crap car wrecked in some crap fashion
by my own mistake or deliberate hand.

When it’s done they’ll truck me off 
from wherever I happen to fall
as hazardous waste to be handled
with due care and precaution
until I’m disposed of. 

Fine, then.  Anyway it happens,
it will be fine.

It’s always a shell game at closing time;
you end up under some shifting cover
while someone tries to call out
the one that holds you, 

seeking a win from your presence
or your absence.

However that plays out on that day

what I was will be gone
in any one of a number
of likely or unlikely ways
that won’t matter to me.
I would like it to matter to someone.
I do what I can to make that so
but when that final shell
is at last raised,

what’s underneath
won’t be up to me.


Companion

Ahead, wooded foothills.
Farther ahead, green and gray
mountains. White patches
here and there upon them — snow
this late seems unlikely

but it has been 
an unlikely year. These
may be instead 
well-lit patches of
odd stone recently exposed,
perhaps by rockslides.
I know so little 
of mountains, though;

it’s pointless to speculate,
and now I find 
a longing within
for a companion
who knows more of mountains
than I do.

I find such longing
within me often this year;
this has been an unlikeable
year and to have
someone beside me
who has seen
such years before
might keep me
from drifting too early
into those mountains.
This road I’m on
will take me there
soon enough,
take me to see
if those white stains are 
slides of stone
or slides of snow,
but there’s much country
to cross before then and 

to have a guide,
a shadow partner who 
could say “calm, stay calm,
all will be revealed in time”
whenever I am transfixed by
dangerous considerations
of what’s coming

would make this journey
easier if not less
fraught with fear.


That Poser’s Life

Disappointed that my body
has pushed through another night,
I flush with anger for harboring 
such desperate selfish longing 
for an end to this cycle 
of sleep and wake 
and sleep and wake
again. 
I live a poser’s life,
keep enthusiasm for living
a sword-arm’s length away.

It’s such a privileged life,
such a privilege to be alive
and yet want to die 
without moving a finger 
to further that desire,

a privilege to feel entitled
to an easy passage.

Once, years ago,

I took the steps — bought the pills,
bought the razor blades,
tried more than once to use them.

I learned from those attempts
that I am a coward when it comes
to getting what I want, or what
I claim to want —

for perhaps I don’t want to die at all?
There are those who tell me that,
who say that what I did not do
I did not do not from cowardice,
but through the body’s stone resistance to 
the fact of finality. Something
within held me back. Maybe 
that’s so, but I can’t shake off
another thought —

that the reason
I did not succeed
was not from fear of pain
or afterlife censure, but from
the suspicion that once I’d crossed
I’d find everything there
to be much the same 
as here,
and once I was on that side,
there would be no way out.

So instead I wake up daily
dimly disappointed that I have
done so yet again, ashamed at
my inaction and my lazy wish
to have it handed to me in my sleep,
embarrassed when I think of those
who fight each day not to pass,
jealous of those who die in their sleep;

now and then each day
I push myself to feel 
a modicum of hope
that tomorrow

I might rise and know
something of what it’s like 

to be glad you’re alive.


I Get Misty

Such a great surprise to become unbodied,
to find myself hovering above my own grave
once my loved ones had wiped their tears
and the diggers had wiped their hands
and all had gone away; such a great surprise
to learn then how much I’d been run

by the belief that I was my body, how many
wounds and acts of ill repute I might have avoided
if I had become aware earlier of my body only
as game piece and vehicle for what I truly was
and not fallen into its urgency and insistence
upon its own mechanical demands. Now
that I am no longer inside the creaky tyranny
of it, now that it is beneath me in the dirt,
only now can I see how free I could have been;

words like “walk” and “run” replaced 
by “float” and “seep” and “hover,”
words like “hunger” and “thirst” set aside,
words like “lust” and “flush” and “blush”
slipping from the vocabulary
of my still-conscious ghost until
all that is left is the mist of me

dampening the headstone at dawn,
darkening the rough granite,
my sodden name a remainder
and reminder
of what I once thought I was,
what I did not understand at all.


Sloth

It might be the dawn
of the last day I’ll be alive,
or it might not. Grand apocalypse
or 
tiny personal demise;
I can’t say when either or both
may arrive.

I’ve read of 
many who have said,
“today’s the day,” then turned
their sick heads away
from loved ones
with a last resigned smile
and passed. Such
foreknowledge 
seems to come
only 
when that last day
is already very near,

and there are of course
the tales of soldiers diving into 
showers of demise who 
also predict such things, tales
of sailors on sinking ships
and pilots and passengers on 
falling planes, or in colliding
cars and trains, who do the same;

I cannot forget
to mention those
who choose, alone
in darkness, a path
hacked through dense pain
into that final peace
by their own hand.

All of these know
by choice or chance
what is coming,
but only just before
it arrives. I cannot see myself
slipping into despair
were I to somehow learn
the hour of my death
well before it came.
Instead, I like to think I’d fall
into the worldview
and mindset of a sloth —  

hanging for days and months,
perhaps for years,

from favorite places
in my personal canopy,
moving as little as possible,
being slow and sweet with a 
perpetual smile on my
changed and perfect final face,

dropping to the floor below
in one last fast moment
when it’s finally time
to go.


Gone On A Gust

Let me make certain
that I have wrung
from my self
every possible drop
before I dry up
and blow away.

I’ll be only
a small cloud,
a dust devil
on the sidewalk,
if I do it right.

My worst fear is 
that when I pass
I shall pass
as a tornado
with its attendant pain
and wreckage.

Not that such damage
would be unexpected
considering what I’ve
left behind in life
so far

but one should 
after a certain age strive
to leave less mess,
to ghost the party
having become
a grateful husk

which, when
the time comes,
falls apart
in a sweet smoke. Let me be
gone on a gust.

Let any legacy of mine
not be based in how I pass.
Let it show in what I left
that was not me and my
attendant troubles,
but was the work of spiting

and triumphing over those;
but as for this person — no.  
Let me be forgotten — my atoms,
my soil, my funks and wars
and storms. Let me pass
without notice

into that
good, good night.


Tomatoes

Originally posted here in September of 2015.
Dates to 2000 or so following the death of a close friend at Easter that year; the original is long lost.
This is an attempt to recreate it, knowing I’m no longer the person who wrote that original. 

RIP, Terry Warren.

I come home
craving tomatoes.
I go to my backyard bed

and pick whatever’s ripe
for my favorite summer meal: 
thick-sliced plum tomatoes,

Gorgonzola cheese, 
a few shreds of basil, 
balsamic vinegar, light on the olive oil.

You once questioned me:
why not the more traditional Mozzarella?
I said it’s because I feel that 

strong blues make flavors pop
and without strong flavors,
what’s the point?  

You tasted it, agreed, told me later 
you could no longer imagine 
not using a strong blue cheese

in a tomato salad, and I was as well pleased
as I could be 
that we’d fallen once again into 
the same place on something.

I remember this as I stare into
strong blues and bright reds in this bowl,
stare into oil bubbles,

 

a brown slick of vinegar, remember

you weren’t here to help me 
plant this year, to plant the beds with me

 

scant weeks after your passing;
weren’t here to help me weed
and toss and water and feed;

 

realize as if for the first time
that you aren’t here to help me savor 
the likely last summer salad of the year,

 

picked ahead 
of the inevitable 
killing frost.