+ Death


THEMED COLLECTION: DEATH

Poems involving death, dying, and/or the dead.

Problems with Hurricanes, by Victor Hernández Cruz

 

Problems with Hurricanes, by Victor Hernández Cruz

A campesino looked at the air
And told me:
With hurricanes it’s not the wind
or the noise or the water.
I’ll tell you he said:
it’s the mangoes, avocados
Green plantains and bananas
flying into town like projectiles.

How would your family
feel if they had to tell
The generations that you
got killed by a flying
Banana.

Death by drowning has honor
If the wind picked you up
and slammed you
Against a mountain boulder
This would not carry shame
But
to suffer a mango smashing
Your skull
or a plantain hitting your
Temple at 70 miles per hour
is the ultimate disgrace.

The campesino takes off his hat—
As a sign of respect
toward the fury of the wind
And says:
Don’t worry about the noise
Don’t worry about the water
Don’t worry about the wind—
If you are going out
beware of mangoes
And all such beautiful
sweet things.

The dandelions in the moment and then, by CJ Evans

 

The dandelions in the moment and then, by CJ Evans

It is. And needles don’t fall;
cones don’t fall. The soil keeps

holding the grass seed and the dune
sand beneath is still torn by thirsty,

wooden hands. By bedrock
is where will be my tenoned pine.

And the grass seeds don’t split,
their shoots don’t spill. The clouds

remain, widely. That locked closet
inside will never have its tumblers

turned. Honestly, all I had
was the only lie—that I could be

the one who evades. Sparrows
don’t fall, no owl falls. Left behind

are her thin hands, a box full
of ribbons, a bolt, a knife.

Photographs with anybody’s faces.
Hungry letters, angry letters about

a time and people and love that is
not. No image holds its meaning

within itself. Not one dandelion fell.
Please. Something did happen here.

Father Lynch Returns from the Dead, by Jean Valentine

 

Father Lynch Returns from the Dead, by Jean Valentine

There’s one day a year
they can return,
if they want.
He says he won’t again.
I ask what it’s like—
he quotes St. Paul:
“Now hope is sweet.”
Then in his own voice.
Oh well it’s a great scandal,
the naked are easier to kill.

Anyway, by Richard Siken

 

Anyway, by Richard Siken

He was pointing at the moon but I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised
I saw his hand at all. The moon, of course, is always
there—day moon, but it’s still there; behind the clouds but
it’s still there. I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice
in a highball glass. The moon? It’s free, it doesn’t
cost you anything so go ahead and look. Sustained attention
to anything—a focus, a scrutiny—always yields results.
I’d live on the moon probably except I think I’d miss
the moonlight, landscaping craters with clay roses in earthshine
and a reasonable excuse to avoid visiting hours
at the mental hospital. In space, no one can hear you
lying to your mom: “Can’t make it, Mom. It’s
a really long schlep.” The coffee’s weak and the coffee cake’s
imaginary. You’re not missing anything. Inside: a day room
and a day pass. Outside: a gazebo under a jackfruit tree.
The other inside: a deeper understanding of the burden
and its domestic infrastructure. Make yourself white.
Make yourself snow but the black bears trample
your landscape like little black dots that show up on x-rays.
It is not enough to be a landscape. One must also become
the path through the landscape, which is creepy. Truly.
The sun melts the snow, the bears wander off, the leaves
tremble like all my sad friends. I can still see his hand.
Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead. Buried
underground, its light was too much to bear. How did it
get there? Greed. The brothers who owned it had it
buried with them. Later, St. Peter hung it in a tree.
The dead went back to bed, allegedly. One wonders why
a story like this exists. Who wrote it and to what end?
An ingenious solution: trees. Cashew, avocado, fig,
olive. Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb
higher. We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our
overcoats, the snow falling down. Little black dots.
Some dream of tall things—trees, ladders, a rope trick.
My dreams are filled with bricks, or things in the shape
of bricks. Rectangles in the hot sun. A cow, a car,
a carton of cigarettes. Even my imagination sleeps
when I sleep and why not rest? Why crash the party
on the astral plane? You’ll just be too tired to go
to the real party later. Have you ever eaten
Swedish meatballs at a dream party? They taste like
your blanket, because they are your blanket.
My imagination wants breakfast burritos. It refuses
to punch the clock until then. I could eat six but then
I’d need a nap. A breakfast that puts you back to sleep
is useless. Dear bears, we must not hibernate!
The bathroom tile is always wet and slippery and the door
from sleeping to waking always sticks and squeeks
but I have arrived, triumphant, with corporate coffee!
Tawnya has written our names on the paper cups
in her immaculate cursive. Her eyes are dead
and lusterless but her heart is in the right place, I guess.
Somewhere deep in her chest, I guess.
We take our hats off and get down
to business. “You got plans tonight, Dick?”
“Eight dollar spaghetti dinner and all you can sing
karaoke at the Best Western. Gonna school
Pace and Killian in the finer points of falsetto.”
Not even one hour later: smoke break
in the breezeway by the handicapped bathroom.
Why is it we believe we only have one soul?
Because it’s easier to set the table for one. And you can
sing your dinner tune to yourself while you eat over the sink.
The throat of the sink: silent. The throat of the argument:
more silverware, a tablecloth, gratitude, more souls.
A kid under a tablecloth isnists he’s a ghost. A table
underneath a tablecloth is, I guess, like the rest of us,
only pretending to be invisible. Or worse:
dressed for work and not in the mood for, you know,
how it all plays out, always the same ways, boring times infinity.
“When I grow up I’m going to be a truck,”
says the kid underneath the tablecloth, and that’s one way
to deflect the weight of the inevitable, to insist on possibility
in the face of grownups and the pumace of their compromises.
The trees die standing. My Spanish teacher told me this.
I had conjugated the verbs beforehand and taped them
to the bottom of my sneaker. Cheater, yes. Also uninvested
in the outcome. She could tell. Nothing to be done about it.
Verbs of being and verbs of action. We, neither
of us, were doing much anyway at the time and the room was
too hot. I think she meant unroot, which is a good thing to mean
but a difficult thing to hear when you’re living under someone
else’s roof. I climbed trees then, too. Then climbed back down.
How do I tell you how I got here without getting trapped
in the past? I suppose that’s a bigger question than I expected.
“Hey Dick, tell ‘em about that one time when we made out.
That was a good time.” Yes, it was. And yet
should we really spend our velocities on backwards motion?
Yes. Any motion, every motion. It’s spring, green, take off
your coat, pull down your cap, roll up your sleeves, we’re
hunting, we’re arrows, we’re stag in a meadow, in a frenzy.
“Like I said, Dick. That was a good time.”
Soul 1: Was it a good time?
Soul 2: I had fun. You seemed to like it.
Soul 3: He’s no Neil Armstrong.
Soul 2: Few are.
Neil Armstrong: Hush.
“He was such a colicky baby. Always fussing and crying.
As if he didn’t want to be here at all. Right, Dicky?”
No, mom. I don’t remember. And you’re not supposed to be
in this part of the poem. You come back later, near the end,
with the ghost and the hand and the moon, after dark, after
the gimlets. “Sweetie, you asked for prompts and it’s getting dark
on the East Coast. Tick tock. And don’t type drunk.”
Dear East Coast, I’m sorry it’s getting dark. It must be problematic,
living in the future, always a few steps ahead, knowing
things you shouldn’t say, since they haven’t happened
to the rest of us yet. And Poland? I don’t dare wonder
what you know about tomorrow. “Your grandma was from Poland.”
I know, mom. And grandpa was handsome and you
were the smart one and the pretty one. “Still am. Poor Barbara.
You know, Dicky, I’ve been out of the hospital for a while now.
Remember how you promised you wouldn’t write about me
while I was alive, Dicky? Remember? So if you’re
writing about me that must mean something, yes?”
You’re not sticking around for the end, then. “No, you’re
doing fine, Squish. And yes, I miss you, too.”
We cannot tarry here. We must march, we must bear the brunt.
Smoke break: in the alley by the oleanders, the pink ones.
Dear East Coast, it is getting dark here too now. Suddenly.
“It’s getting late, Little Moon. Sing them the song.”
It’s not that late, Mr. Kitten.
“You are my moon, Little Moon. And it’s late enough.
So climb down out of the tree.”
Is it safe? “Safe enough.” Are you dead as well?
Soul 1: Sing.
Soul 2: Sing.
Soul 3: Sing.
Stag In The Meadow: Sing.
The Black Bears: Sing.
Kid Under The Tablecloth: Sing.
I’ve been singing all day.
“Yes, you’ve been singing all day. And no, I’m not dead, not
everyone is dead, Little Moon. But the big moon needs the tree.”
There is a ghost at the end of the song.
“Yes, there is. And you see his hand, and then you see the moon.”
Am I the ghost at the end of the song?
“No, you are the way we bounce the light to see the ghost.”
He was looking at the moon by I was looking at his hand.
He was dead anyway, a ghost. I’m surprised I saw
his hand at all. Once, in a fable, the moon woke the dead.
One wonders why a story like this exists. Who wrote it
and to what end? Sure, everyone wants the same things—
to belong, and to not be left behind—but still, does it help?
Perhaps. Once, in a fable: a man in a tree. Once,
in a fable: the trace of his thinking, the sound of his singing.
I like seeing things: a hand, the moon, ice in a highball glass.
The light of the mind illuminating the mind itself.
Put it in a tree. Hide it in plain sight and climb higher.
We are all of us secret agents, undercover in our overcoats,
the snow falling down.

The Call, by C. Dale Young

 

The Call, by C. Dale Young

in memoriam Cecil Young

I am addicted to words, constantly ferret them away
in anticipation. You cannot accuse me of not being prepared.
I am ready for anything. I can create an image faster than

just about anyone. And so, the crows blurring the tree line;
the sky’s light dimming and shifting; the Pacific cold and
impatient as ever: this is just the way I feel. Nothing more.

I could gussy up those crows, transform them
into something more formal, more Latinate, could use
the exact genus Corvus, but I won’t. Not today.

Like any addict, I, too, have limits. And I have written
too many elegies already. The Living have become
jealous of the amount I have written for the Dead.

So, leave the crows perched along the tree line
watching over us. Leave them be. The setting sun?
Leave it be. For God’s sake, what could be easier

in a poem about death than a setting sun? Leave it be.
Words cannot always help you, the old poet had taught
me, cannot always be there for you no matter how you

store them away with sharpened forethought.
Not the courier in his leather sandals, his legs dark and dirty
from the long race across the desert. Not the carrier

pigeon arriving with the news of another dead Caesar
and the request you present yourself. Nothing like that.
The telephone rings. Early one morning, the telephone rings

and the voice is your mother’s voice. No fanfare. Your
father’s brother is dead. He died that morning. And your tongue
went silent. Like any other minor poet, you could not find

the best words, the appropriate words. Leave it be now.
You let your mother talk and talk to fill the silence. Leave it be.
All of your practiced precision, all of the words saved up

for a poem, can do nothing to remedy that now.

Long Distance II, by Tony Harrison

 

Long Distance II, by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.

French Movie, by David Lehman

 

French Movie, by David Lehman

I was in a French movie
and had only nine hours to live
and I knew it
not because I planned to take my life
or swallowed a lethal but slow-working
potion meant for a juror
in a mob-related murder trial,
nor did I expect to be assassinated
like a chemical engineer mistaken
for someone important in Milan
or a Jew journalist kidnapped in Pakistan;
no, none of that; no grounds for
suspicion, no murderous plots
centering on me with cryptic phone
messages and clues like a scarf or
lipstick left in the front seat of a car;
and yet I knew I would die
by the end of that day
and I knew it with a dreadful certainty,
and when I walked in the street
and looked in the eyes of the woman
walking toward me I knew that
she knew it, too,
and though I had never seen her before,
I knew she would spend the rest of that day
with me, those nine hours walking,
searching, going into a bookstore in Rome,
smoking a Gitane, and walking,
walking in London, taking the train
to Oxford from Paddington or Cambridge
from Liverpool Street and walking
along the river and across the bridges,
walking, talking, until my nine hours
were up and the black-and-white movie
ended with the single word FIN
in big white letters on a bare black screen.

Red String, by Minnie Bruce Pratt

 

Red String, by Minnie Bruce Pratt

At first she thought the lump in the road
was clay thrown up by a trucker’s wheel.
Then Beatrice saw the mess of feathers.

Six or seven geese stood in the right-of-way, staring
at the blood, their black heads rigid above white throats.
Unmoved by passing wind or familiar violence, they fixed
their gaze on dead flesh and something more, a bird on the wing.

It whirled in a thicket of fog that grew up from fields plowed
and turned to winter. It joined other spirits exhaled before dawn,
creatures that once had crept or flapped or crawled over the land.

Beatrice had heard her mother tell of men who passed
as spirits. They hid in limestone caves by the river, hooded
themselves inside the curved wall, the glistening rock.
Then just at dark they appeared, as if they had the power
to split the earth open to release them. White-robed, faceless
horned heads, they advanced with torches over the water,
saying, We are the ghosts of Shiloh and Bull Run fight!

Neighbors who watched at the bridge knew each man by his voice
or limp or mended boots but said nothing, let the marchers
pass on. Then they ran their skinny hounds to hunt other
lives down ravines, to save their skins another night
from the carrion beetles, spotted with red darker than blood,
who wait by the grave for the body’s return to the earth.

Some years the men killed scores, treed them in the sweetgums,
watched a beast face flicker in the starry green leaves.
Then they burned the tree.

Smoke from their fires
still lay over the land where Beatrice travelled.

Out of this cloud the dead of the field spoke to her,
voices from a place where women’s voices never stop:

They took my boy down by Sucarnochee creek.
He said, “Gentlemen, what have I done?”
They says, “Never mind what you have done.
We just want your damned heart.” After they
killed him, I built up a little fire and laid out
by him all night until the neighbors came
in the morning. I was standing there when
they killed him, down by Sucarnochee creek.

I am a mighty brave woman, but I was getting
scared the way they were treating me, throwing rocks
on my house, coming in disguise. They come to my bed
where I was laying, and whipped me. They dragged me
out into the field so that the blood strung across
the house, and the fence, and the cotton patch,
in the road, and they ravished me. Then they went
back into my house and ate the food on the stove.
They have drove me from my home. It is over
by DeSotoville, on the other side in Choctaw.

I had informed of persons whom I saw
dressing in Ku-Klux disguise;
had named the parties. At the time
I was divorced from Dr. Randall
and had a school near Fredonia.
About one month before the election
some young men about the county
came in the night-time; they said
I was not a decent woman; also
I was teaching radical politics.
They whipped me with hickory withes.
The gashes cut through my thin dress,
through the abdominal wall.
I was thrown into a ravine
in a helpless condition. The school
closed after my death.

From the fog above the bloody entrails of the bird, the dead flew
toward Beatrice like the night crow whose one wing rests on the evening
while the other dusts off the morning star. They gave her such a look:

Child, what have you been up to while we
were trying to keep body and soul together?

But never mind that now. Here’s what you must do:

Tie a red flannel string around your waist.
Plant your roots when the moon is dark. Remember
your past, and ours. Always remember who you are.
Don’t let those men fool you about the ways of life
even if blood must sign your name.

Curtains, by Ruth Stone

 

Curtains, by Ruth Stone

Putting up new curtains,
other windows intrude.
As though it is that first winter in Cambridge
when you and I had just moved in.
Now cold borscht alone in a bare kitchen.

What does it mean if I say this years later?

Listen, last night
I am on a crying jag
with my landlord, Mr. Tempesta.
I sneaked in two cats.
He screams, “No pets! No pets!”
I become my Aunt Virginia,
proud but weak in the head.
I remember Anna Magnani.
I throw a few books. I shout.
He wipes his eyes and opens his hands.
OK OK keep the dirty animals
but no nails in the walls.
We cry together.
I am so nervous, he says.

I want to dig you up and say, look,
it’s like the time, remember,
when I ran into our living room naked
to get rid of that fire inspector.

See what you miss by being dead?

Winter Heavens, by George Meredith

 

Winter Heavens, by George Meredith

Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive
Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.
It is a night to make the heavens our home
More than the nest whereto apace we strive.
Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,
In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.
They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:
The living throb in me, the dead revive.
Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,
Life glistens on the river of the death.
It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,
Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs
Of radiance, the radiance enrings:
And this is the soul’s haven to have felt.

The Blade of Nostalgia, by Chase Twichell

 

The Blade of Nostalgia, by Chase Twichell

When fed into the crude, imaginary
machine we call the memory,

the brain’s hard pictures
slide into the suggestive
waters of the counterfeit.

They come out glamorous and simplified,

even the violent ones,
even the ones that are snapshots of fear.

Maybe those costumed,
clung-to fragments are the first wedge

nostalgia drives into our dreaming.

Maybe our dreams are corrupted
right from the start: the weight

of apples in the blossoms overhead.

Even the two thin reddish dogs
nosing down the aisles of crippled trees,
digging in the weak shade

thrown by the first flowerers,
snuffle in the blackened leaves
for the scent of a dead year.

Childhood, first love, first loss of love–

the saying of their names
brings an ache to the teeth
like that of tears withheld.

What must happen now
is that the small funerals
celebrated in the left-behind life

for their black exotica, their high relief,

their candles and withered wreaths,
must be allowed to pass through
into the sleeping world,

there to be preserved and honored
in the fullness and color of their forms,

their past lives their coffins.

Goodbye then to all innocent surprise
at mortality’s panache,
and goodbye to the children fallen

ahead of me into the slow whirlpool
I conceal within myself, my death,

into its snow-froth and the green-black
muscle of its persuasion.

The spirits of children
must look like the spirits of animals,
though in the adult human

the vacancy left by the child
probably darkens the surviving form.

The apples drop their blossom-shadows
onto the still-brown grass.
Old selves, this is partly for you,

there at the edge of the woods
like a troop of boy soldiers.

You can go on living with the blade
of nostalgia in your hearts forever,
my pale darlings. It changes nothing.

Don’t you recognize me? I admit
I too am almost invisible now, almost.

Like everything else, I take on
light and color from outside myself,
but it is old light, old paint.

The first shadows are supple ones,
school of gray glimpses, insubstantial.

In children, the quality of darkness
changes inside the sleeping mouth,

and the ghost of child-grime–
that infinite smudge of no color–

blows off into the afterlife.

A child said, What is the grass?, by Walt Whitman

 

A child said, What is the grass?, by Walt Whitman

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full
hands;
How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it
is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful
green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we
may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe
of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow
zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the
same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,
It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men,
It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;
It may be you are from old people and from women, and
from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps,
And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old
mothers,
Darker than the colorless beards of old men,
Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!
And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths
for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men
and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring
taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and
children?

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
luckier.

Antigonish [I met a man who wasn’t there], by Hughes Mearns

 

Antigonish [I met a man who wasn’t there], by Hughes Mearns

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away…

The Difference between a Child and a Poem, by Michael Blumenthal

 

The Difference between a Child and a Poem, by Michael Blumenthal

If you are terrified of your own death,
and want to escape from it,
you may want to write a poem,
for the poem might carry your name
into eternity, the poem
may become immortal, beyond flesh
and fashion, it may be read
in a thousand years by someone
as frightened of death as you are,
in a dark field, at night,
when he has failed once again at love
and there is no illusion with which to escape
the inward pull of his own flesh
against the narrowing margins of the spirit.

But if you have accepted your own death,
if you have pinched daily the corroborating flesh,
and have passed the infinite gravestones
bearing your name, if you know for certain
that the day will one day come
when you will gaze into the mirror in search of your face
and find only a silence, then
you may want to make a child, you may want to push
the small oracles of flesh forward
into some merely finite but lengthening story,
you may want to toss your seed into the wind
like a marigold, or a passion fruit, and watch
as a fresh flower grows in your place, as your face
inches onto another face, and your eyes
slip down over your cheeks onto the forehead
of your silenced, speakable future.

And, then, when you are done with all that,
you may want to write a poem.

A Litany in Time of Plague, by Thomas Nashe

 

A Litany in Time of Plague, by Thomas Nashe

Adieu, farewell, earth’s bliss;
This world uncertain is;
Fond are life’s lustful joys;
Death proves them all but toys;
None from his darts can fly;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Rich men, trust not in wealth,
Gold cannot buy you health;
Physic himself must fade.
All things to end are made,
The plague full swift goes by;
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air;
Queens have died young and fair;
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Strength stoops unto the grave,
Worms feed on Hector brave;
Swords may not fight with fate,
Earth still holds open her gate.
“Come, come!” the bells do cry.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Wit with his wantonness
Tasteth death’s bitterness;
Hell’s executioner
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

Haste, therefore, each degree,
To welcome destiny;
Heaven is our heritage,
Earth but a player’s stage;
Mount we unto the sky.
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

 

 

 

{your interpretation/general thoughts}

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s