Posts Tagged ‘death’




Before the sadness comes the shock,

like snow falling on sunflowers,

like nightfall at noon. And then

the tears catch up. And then

the wondering, What could I have done?

The urge to hold her now that I cannot.

The ache to hold her daughter, to hold

her son the way that she once held

my children when they were young.

What is there to do now but cradle

each other, to cry, to recover, and again

to shudder, to cry. To say to each other

that this day it hurts to be alive.

To notice that despite grief,

the larkspur are in full blue.

The river curls notes around the rocks.

The bees immerse their bodies

in snapdragon blooms.

How it’s never been more important

to know this—that the world

is beautiful. That even as we’re held

by tragedy, here is tenderness.

Here, always waiting to be opened,

the invitation to love.


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In the Garden




I apologize

as I squish

the green worm

that’s been feasting

on the basil leaf.

It does not change

the fact that the worm

is dead. And the basil

now will live.


Yesterday, my friend Carl

stopped me on the street

and wondered aloud

how we die

to the moment,

then greet the next.

He did not,

of course mean

a literal death.


The basil leaf

has a hole in it now

where the green worm

is not. I pick it

and eat it myself,

not out of spite,


to feel how the worm

and I are not

after all

so different.

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Yesterday I found a bird on the ground outside the window. Remember how I had told you about the two pairs of Bullock’s Orioles at our feeder? It was one of the females. I was too squeamish to pick her up with my bare hands. Someone at some time told me about the bacteria on birds, and like so many other stories, I let it define my actions even though I don’t know that it’s true.


I did pick it up, however, fashioned a little stretcher out of cottonwood sticks and carried the bird to the deep grass.


Though it was at the feeder the day before, already it was gone enough to have lost its eyes, now two little sunken spaces where the head pulled in on itself. But the small body was not yet rigid, and it hung, limp, over the sticks.


I sang a death song, as I always do, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head. It was taught to me by Art. “Nothing lives long, nothing lives long, nothing lives long, not even the mountain.”


I remember the day Art changed the lyric. For many years, he had sung the final phrase, “nothing lives long but the earth and the mountain.” Perhaps like all things

that are new, it trembled something me. The old words were so comfortable and familiar in my ears, my mouth. I suspect the real reason they shook me was the truth of them. Nothing lives long. Not even the mountain.


How small we are. Sometimes, like yesterday, I let my sadnesses and worries become so big, much bigger than my body. I can’t contain them and they spill. It was beautiful to watch how, on that flood of my sorrow, you found a boat and sat in it and showed me it was possible.


Why did I think the deep grass was a better place for the body of the bird? I didn’t question the voice that told me to take her there. Perhaps we are all heading into the unkempt field, a place where we are open and hidden at the same time.


I watched the other three birds all day as they flew from feeder to cottonwood. They were a braid of song, seldom staying in one place for long.


Nothing lives long. It’s no revelation, but sometimes an old truth finds wings in us. And so it was when you told me yesterday, just before you drove away, that I needed to stop hoping things would change—that I needed to decide if I could be happy with things just as they are. Only minutes later I found the bird. Though the two events didn’t seem connected at the moment, now they are like two drops that become one water.


And so this morning, I join you in the boat. Although it is just a metaphor, I notice that it changes things not to be swimming in the waters of wishing things were different. I notice how there are no oars in the boat, and how part of me longs for control and part of me has already found the freedom to stare at the sky.


And there they are, the three orioles, their yellow feathers flashing as they rearrange the air. And there she isn’t, the oriole now laying in the field.


Later today I will fill the feeder. There are some things we can do.



Your friend,






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Make definite assertions. Avoid tame, colorless hesitating, noncommittal language. Use the word not as a means of denial or in antithesis, never as a means of evasion.

            —Elements of Style, Strunk & White



It would be less preferred

to say of the baby quail

that “It did not survive”

when the falcon

went hunting

along the side of the cliff.

Better, say the experts,

to make definite assertions,

“It died.”

It’s rule twelve:

“Put statements

in positive form.”

But what to say

of the inner fight,

how the soul cheers

for the falcon in flight—

all grace and ferocity,

precision, might.

While the heart

can’t help but cheer

for that bumbling chick

brown-striped, blameless,

chirp and slip.

It’s not that the heart

is trying to evade,

not trying to lie,

it just wants

to build a small hope

for us all with the word survive

something to soften the truth—

all things die.


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What Then?





When it dies, the whooper swan sings—

a drawn out trellising of soft running notes—

a glissando as its lungs collapse.


It isn’t that the swan tries

to be beautiful then

after a lifetime of bugling.


No, the effect is strictly mechanical,

they say, an additional tracheal loop

within the swan’s sternum.


Isn’t it like us to want to believe

that the swan gives its greatest effort

at the end? Anything to release us


from the tedium and noise

of the day to day—as if doing it better later

releases us from the moment’s scale.


Sometimes we sing

and fail to recognize our own tune.

Sometimes we try too hard


and our effort comes out less song,

more honk, more strangled cry.

What if, instead of weighting


the finale, we focus on the few notes

we’ve been given and every day

do with them the best we can—


play with their volume, their

timbre, their tempo, their texture—

learn to feel them resonant


in our bodies, learn to find them

beautiful as they join the air,

the tune still warm from our breath


as we scatter our song across the fields,

across the highways, the forests,

letting it touch everything we love

and everything we are still

learning to love.


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Tell me, I said

to the cemetery stone,

how long before

our names are

prayers only

the lichen

can speak?

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Letting the Small Ache Sing




Not yet dirt,

the outline

of squirrel is still visible

on the hard earth

of the back road—

I step over what remains,


how many other lives

I’m walking on.

There are infinite ways

to praise,

among them

these words:

I am sorry.

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