Posts Tagged ‘death’

What is the reason
you’re canceling his membership?
asked the AAA representative.
Because he’s dead,
I said, my voice flat
as the stiff plastic card
with my son’s name on it.
I’m so sorry,
said the woman.
Thank you, I said,
determined to stay composed.
But I found myself at a threshold
with one foot in the past
when my son had just learned
to drive and was proud
to be a safe driver,
and one foot in the present
reciting the numbers
of my credit card
to pay for the membership
that no longer includes him.
Around the fifth number,
grief was a lug wrench
lodged in my throat
and I could not speak
through my tears.
I’m sorry, I said.
Take your time, she said.
It took me three tries
to get through the digits.
The number had become his smile
as he polished the headlamps.
The number had become his pride
in driving me to the store.
It was his hands on the wheel,
his glee in the curves, his finger
tapping the dash in time
to a cheeky country song.
How is it a memory so beautiful
can crumple me like a fender
hit by a semi at the same time
it floods me with joy?
God, he was happy
when he was driving,
his foot on the accelerator,
and all that road waiting
to be explored.

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inspired by Leigh Gage

I try to make it beautiful—a spacious place
with room enough for blue birds to migrate,
where whole herds of elk can bed down,
and with fields so vast they hold
every memory of you—
not just the warmhearted memories,
but the hardest ones, too.
Those I hold up to the soft light of morning,
grateful for room enough to walk around them
and give them the space they need.
Those I hold up to the sharp light of noon
and say, yes, yes, it was like that.
I fill my heart with the scent of apple pie and cinnamon,
lemon zest and the river in spring.
Sometimes, when I am most vulnerable,
there’s a floral fragrance of forgiving.
I try to keep my heart soft. I try not to clench,
not to harden, not to set. I try to create
a place where you can rest, where you can stay.
It is full of blank books, each one waiting to be filled
with stories of how it is with you living here in my heart,
this place where you have always lived,
this place even death cannot take away—
this place death has made more holy, more real.

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I want it to be said
I was the kind of woman
who would weep in the concert hall,
undone by the beauty of song.
I want to be remembered
as a creature who loved
spring grass in her bare toes
and dirt in her hands
and the sun on her skin,
and I want everyone I love
to know for a fact
I chose them as my family.
I hope they will say
I loved the blank page
more than any word on it,
though I thrilled for words, too—
It was weird, they might say,
how she would sit there for hours,
days, years, wondering
about the next true thing,
letting the blank rub off on her.
She was so happy, eyes closed,
fingers hovering above the keyboard,
leaning into that moment
when anything is possible,
that edge where she learned
she had wings.

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After skate skiing on groomed track for months,
following only the preset path, today
I wake early enough to ski on the hardened crust
of spring morning snow. Suddenly,
the whole valley is a playground. And
it’s freedom. Freedom to move in any
direction. Freedom to loop or climb or follow
the river. Freedom that seeps into breath, into smile,
into my understanding of what it means to be alive.
And the whole time I skate and pole
and propel myself over snow
I hear an inner refrain from Romans:
And death shall have no dominion.
Not a still small voice, but a resonant boom.
And I, so alive in this sweet slip of time,
know that though my son has died
and my father has died, here I am,
carrying their love, and alive. Alive!
Alive through the winter.
Alive though I grieve. Alive. Alive as I skate
through willows and aspen and wide open white.
Lungs burning, legs striding, heart beating
hard in my chest. I know myself as breath
and return to the wholeness that never left.
Skating across the frozen world, the sparkling crust,
I live into this life that so wants to be lived,
this life that asks everything, everything of us.

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Grief arrives with an eraser—
not the cute pink kind
at the end of a pencil,
more like the big gray kind
with the fat felt strips
we used on chalk boards—
the kind that didn’t really
get rid of what was there,
just smeared it around
until it was unrecognizable,
the ghost of what was written
still haunting the board.
At first I thought
what was being erased
was the one who was gone.
Then I realized
what’s being erased is me—
whatever I think I know
about love, about life,
about death.
This erasure is nothing
I would have asked for.
But now, lines blurring,
what is infinite in me begins
to recognize itself,
and it’s beautiful—
this spaciousness
I once thought
meant the end.

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Meeting Your Death

Because there are no clear instructions,
I follow what rises up in me to do.
I fall deeper into love with you.
I look at old pictures.
I don’t look at old pictures.
I talk about you. I say nothing.
I walk. I sit. I lie in the grass
and let the earth hold me.
I lie on the sidewalk, dissolve
into sky. I cry. I don’t cry.
I ask the world to help me stay open.
I ask again, please, let me feel it all.
I fall deeper in love with the people
still living. I fall deeper in love
with the world that is left—
this world with its spring
and its war and its mornings,
this world with its fruits
that ripen and rot and reseed,
this world that insists
we keep our eyes wide,
this world that opens
when our eyes are closed.
Because there are no clear instructions,
I learn to turn toward the love that is here,
though sometimes what is here is what’s not.
There are infinite ways to do this right.
That is the only way.

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Two Truths

after Ruth Stone, “Train Ride”

He is dead. Never again
to pull on the fencing mask,
moonwalk to his bedroom
or snuggle on the couch.
Not dancing on the stage.
He is dead. Not spinning
the gator through the field.
Not graphing equations for fun.
Is he dead? asks the heart.
No, he lives on forever.
In the scent of lemon.
In the cloudy ice on the pond.
In the buds of the lilac tree.
In the song on my breath. He lives
in blue sky and comet and field.
He lives in ink and in spaces between.
He is dead.
I held his body in my arms.
Since that day, he has never left me.
He is alive forever.

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Tonight I stare at the photo
of you and me and the cat
and the wooden train tracks
and I can’t stop marveling how
your head angles so neatly
into my shoulder, how my
body angles so easily into
yours. And I see how, even
now, after you’re gone,
I am still angling toward you,
my whole self somehow
defined by the space
where you’ve been. Today,
someone asked if it
was too hard to think
of the happy memories.
No. I love them. And I love,
impossibly, the hardest
of memories, too. It is
so easy now to love
the all of you. Remember
how many times we built
those wooden tracks?
And then pulled them apart,
only to build them again?
What isn’t a teacher for love?
Even then we were learning
about dead ends. Even then
we were learning how things
circle, how things change.

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The day your son died, the person you were died, too.
            —Mirabai Starr

Death came to her
as a blue sky day,
as a feral scream,
as an ambulance
with no need
for its siren.
Death came to her
saying, “Ma’am,
you don’t want
to see your son
this way.” Death
knew what it
was doing when
it erased everything
she’d thought
about how to meet
a day, when it scraped
her of who
she had been
and left her barren.
It was habit
that made her
brush her teeth,
routine that helped
her drive the car.
But it was life itself
that inspirited
her, slipping
 like starlight
into her every
dark cell, life itself
that whispered
to her death-bent heart,
You are not done
yet with your


this poem has been published in ONE ART

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after Hope II by Gustav Klimt

I am still thinking of the pregnant woman
on the fifth floor in room five hundred four
in a gold and jewel-toned Byzantine gown
with her eyes closed and her head bowed
down toward her swollen belly. Has she
glimpsed the gray skull attached to her womb?
Is this why her eyes are closed? Did she
somehow guess at what I now know—
that to say yes to a birth is to also say yes
to the death of that child—how the end
is in every one of us from the beginning.
It is right the soon-to-be mother
is nearly naked. This is what birth
and death do to us—no matter how
rich our clothes, we are utterly exposed—
not a damn thing to protect us
from our impermanence. I have fallen
in love with her, this mother to be—
in love with the curl of her fingers,
in love with the flex of her wrist,
in love with her flat and ornate robe,
in love with her delicate face,
and in love with her ripening shape—
this is how the human story goes.
Death hides in all our robes.
It’s the only way to live.

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