Thursday, August 05, 2004

Nothing is Lost (The Final Death Post)

After this post, I'll get off of the subject of death, I promise. Just a few poems for your reflection.

I read this one by Slovenian poet Edvard Kocbek's Nothing is Lost: Selected Poems (Princeton, 1990), in Sunday's Book World:

Earth, I Get Everything From You

Earth, I get everything from you, earth
to you I return, my flesh smells of holy
sacrifice and mortal sorrow, long will I
look upward by day and by night.

Earth, our grave, how lovely you are, earth,
I am a sweet dark grain among grains, bewildered
by your depths, birds chirrup over our heads,
one of them will peck us up.

Notice how he isolates and repeats the word "earth," and how he slows us down with "sweet dark grain among grains," to make us feel so close to the dirt that we'll become.

Here's another, from Marie Howe's collection, What the Living Do (Norton, 1998), a reflection on her brother's death from AIDS, and how she copes with it. You can feel the frustration of her ghost brother as he tries to tell her what death really is. I got this one here.

The Promise

In the dream I had when he came back not sick
but whole, and wearing his winter coat,

he looked at me as though he couldn't speak, as if
there were a law against it, a membrane he couldn't break.

His silence was what he could not
not do, like our breathing in this world, like our living,

as we do, in time.
And I told him: I'm reading all this Buddhist stuff,

and listen, we don't die when we die. Death is an event,
a threshold we pass through. We go on and on

and into light forever.
And he looked down, and then back up at me. It was the look we'd pass

across the kitchen table when Dad was drunk again and dangerous,
the level look that wants to tell you something,
in a crowded room, something important, and can't.

One more, from Billy Collins's collection, Picnic, Lightning (Pittsburgh University Press, 1998). I sent this one to my friend Tom, after he tried to help a woman on the highway after a collision with a tractor trailer. She was already dead. Tom was disturbed by his feeling of uselessness at the time, and at the randomness of death, and at the way that little split decisions, like the decision to cut someone off on the road to get home a few seconds sooner, can result in the greatest cost of all.

Picnic, Lightning

"My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three."

It is possible to be struck by a meteor
or a single-engine plane
while reading in a chair at home.
Safes drop from rooftops
and flatten the odd pedestrian
mostly within the panels of the comics,
but still, we know it is possible,
as well as the flash of summer lightning,
the thermos toppling over,
spilling out onto the grass.
And we know the message
can be delivered from within.
The heart, no valentine,
decides to quit after lunch,
the power shut off like a switch,
or a tiny dark ship is unmoored
into the flow of the body's rivers,
the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore.
This is what I think about
when I shovel compost
into a wheelbarrow,
and when I fill the long flower boxes,
then press into rows
the limp roots of red impatiens--
the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth
from the sleeve of his voluminous cloak.
Then the soil is full of marvels,
bits of leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam.
Then the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue,
the clouds a brighter white,
and all I hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone,
the small plants singing
with lifted faces, and the click
of the sundial
as one hour sweeps into the next.

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