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Posts Tagged ‘death’

When I think of encouragement,

I think of Jack Pera,

who stood every year

at the top of Imogene Pass—

in snow, in sun, in sleet, in fog.

On race day, a thousand plus runners

would reach the top,

weary, having climbed

over five thousand feet in ten miles,

and Jack, he would hold out his hand

and pull each of us up the last foot,

launching us toward the long downhill finish.

I remember how surprised I was

the first time, and grateful,

grateful to feel him reaching for me,

grateful to feel his powerful grip

yanking me up through the scree.

“Good job,” he’d say to each one of us,

cheering us though we were sweaty

and drooling and panting and spent.

After that first race, I knew to look for him

as I climbed the last pitch,

trying to make out his form

at the top of the ridge.

And there was. Every time.

“Good job,” he’d say

as he made that last steep step

feel like flight.

There are people who do this,

who hold out their hand,

year after year,

to help those who need it.

There are people who carry us

when we most need it,

if only for a moment.

When I heard today Jack had died,

I couldn’t help but imagine

an angel waiting there above him

as he took his last breath,

an angel with a firm grip and a big smile

holding out a hand, pulling him through that last effort,

telling him, “Good Job, Jack. Good job.”

And may he have felt in that moment

the blessing of that encouragement,

totally ready to be launched into whatever came next.

Good job, Jack Pera. Good job.

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Forecast

Nobody keeps any of what he has, and life is only a borrowing of bones.

          

  —Pablo Neruda, “October Fullness,” trans. Alistair Reid

And if we can keep nothing of what we have

then let us love more right now. Naked as sunlight

and unapologetic as ripe apples. Let’s invent

new compassions and conjure new kindnesses

out of what seems to be dust.

And if life is only a borrowing of bones,

then let us use them well while we may.

Just today I ran through the corn maze

and marveled at the joy of being lost.

Bless these borrowed femurs and spines.

Bless these borrowed skulls.

And let us love more right now.

Though the forecast is for loss.

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My grandmother asked me that night

to sleep with her in her bed.

Though I was thirty-something,

I knew little of loss. I remember

the great weight of her as she slipped

into the soft white sheets—

a mountain inside a woman’s body.

I wore a long flannel gown with tiny violets

and she a thin flannel robe, slightly pilled and well worn,

with tiny embroidered roses.

We hardly spoke. She did not cry.

Any night stitched with that much sorrow

will linger in the heart for a lifetime.

I did not hold her—nor did she seem

to wish to be held. And when I return

to that night in my mind, I don’t try

to rewrite it. She sleeps on her side of the bed.

I sleep where my grandfather used to sleep.

I listen for the eventual slow tide of her breath.

But I am not the same version of myself

who shared a bed with her then.

Now, when I lie down beside her,

I know something more of how vast

an emptiness can be. How it can feel as if

a whole garden has been ripped up by its roots.

How sometimes in the dark, though we know

there are stars, we simply can’t open our eyes.

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Forecast

In two nights, the killing frost will come.

Because I know this, I wander the garden

and talk to the broccoli, the nasturtiums,

the cilantro. I thank the beets for their willingness

to grow. I tell the onions what is coming.

Tomorrow I will pick enormous bouquets

and fill the house with orange flowers.

Tomorrow I will sit in the garden

and try to store the beauty in my body

though I know it doesn’t work that way.

Please, just one more day, just one more month,

just one more life to try to get it right,

just one more chance to be as attentive

as I am when I know it is almost over,

the basil dark green, the marigolds crinkling with gold.

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Learning

Today the shadows

teach me to love

what is dim,

the sweet respite

of obscurity

when the sun

is too much

and a tree

yields its shape

so that I might slip

my clumsy heat

out of the bounds

of the vertical world

and find instead

a cool dark pool

on the ground,

as if I’m a boat

that has discovered

at last

a slim calm eddy

in which I might rest.

This is perhaps

the way we start

to meet our deaths—

sliding into the relief

of these dark, quiet

channels.

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Whatever it is inside the larkspur

that says grow, grow, grow,

I want to know it, too. Want

to obey the voice that urges me on,

even in frost, even in rain.

I want to rise out of my own dried debris,

want to know how it is to die and return,

new and yet somehow the same.

 

And what is it that fuels the drive?

I want to know that— the divine

encouragement that knows

when to wait, when to push,

when to wilt, when to flourish,

when to swell into oh! bright bloom.

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Tonight, life wears me like

an old pair of shoes. The kind

it can slip its feet into

without untying the laces.

The kind of shoes a mother

would probably throw out

thinking of the act as a favor.

Life is tired, tonight,

of running. Doesn’t want

to dress to impress. It just

wants to know that it goes on,

especially tonight when

events seem to point

to the contrary. And so

though I am down at the heel

and shabby, life slips into me

as if life depended on it.

And we walk in the moonlight,

cry. And howl. Then take another step.

And then another.

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And so I pull the purple comb

through my son’s thick hair,

the same way I’ve seen

the stylists do at Great Clips.

Wet the hair. Comb it through.

Part it. Hold it between

two fingers. Cut vertically. Snip,

and his hair falls to the floor.

Comb it through. Snip. Snip.

 

We both know that I

have no clue what I’m doing.

So we laugh as the hair

piles up on the floor.

We chatter, the way

a stylist and customer would,

talking of school and his friends

and his unruly cowlicks. Snip.

 

I remember that time

I was trapped underwater

by the river’s hydraulics,

how I stared up at the light

shining through the surface

and thought, I don’t think

it’s my time yet to die.

And the river spit me out

and I swam hard as I could

through the rapid toward shore.

 

I don’t think it’s my time yet

to die. Nor my son’s. Though

all around us the news of dying—

the numbers increasing every day,

stories of beloveds who are gone.

 

We ask ourselves, how do we

go on? And meanwhile, we do.

We go on. And because my son’s hair

is too long for his taste,

I learn how to cut it by cutting it.

How much more will we learn

as this goes on? How to share?

How to grieve? How to let go? How to live?

 

And meanwhile, life spits us out

into sunlight, and we come up

spluttering, gasping, surprised

we’re alive, and we swim, what a gift

to find we’re still swimming.

 

 

 

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IMG_6026

also known as Johnny jump up, heart’s ease, heart’s delight, come and cuddle me

 

 

Into the shade by the porch

bloomed the first wild pansy,

its small yellow face sunny

and eager and open.

 

The Athenians used to make

the tiny flowers into syrup

to moderate anger and

to comfort and strengthen the heart.

 

And here it is today,

small volunteer beauty,

growing in this patch of dirt

where nothing else wants to grow.

 

This tiny garden is but one of many

concurrent realities—others involve

hospitals short of beds, loved ones

gone, doctors scared to go home.

 

Our hearts need strengthening.

Little violet, we’re learning, too,

how to be surrounded by death

and still rise up, bring healing as we bloom.

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after her funeral

hanging her ornaments

on the evergreen

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