I’ve been thinking about a conversation stopper for weeks now and I’m beginning to think that I’ll need a laxative to cut it loose! Like the evil character in Harry Potter, “he who shall not be named”, death is a dark force that most people avoid. Including myself.
So meanwhile, I was looking for some writing prompts in “A Poet’s Companion” by Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux and I opened to the chapter titled “Death and Grief”. Of course…
My first attempt was a stream of consciousness poem where I explored what would happen when I’m gone… how all of my stuff would tell a story about me and the life I have lived. It was playful and yet serious. Not a conversation stopper or starter, but maybe occasion for nervous laughter.
This emboldened me.
So the next day, I wrote another poem using one of the ideas in the book: “write about your first experience with death…then write about your most recent experience with death”. This poem went a little deeper, but not so far as to stifle my curiosity. I wrote about a kitten I lost and about the death of my dad, and still there was a lightness/comfort that I hadn’t imagined possible.
I’m not obsessed with death. More like a veil has been lifted and I see my mortality with new clarity. I notice how my to-do lists go on and on, like silent pleadings for more time. How my batteries need recharging more often. How my heredity influences my path. These are not fearful examinations, but curiosity about aging and changing.
So why don’t we talk about death? Why do we steer the conversation away as soon as possible? Is it superstition…the fear that if we say the dreaded word we will invite a visit? Or do we simply wish to not expose our vulnerabilities? How do we begin a dialogue?
I found poetry, in its simple directness, to be my answer. My opportunity to touch the topic lightly and so I returned to “A Poet’s Companion” again and wrote one more poem. I offer it here as a place to pick up the dangling conversation.
What the Dead are Doing
In the morning, the dead wake
waiting for the sun to rise
and illuminate the living.
They watch the longing begin,
the speaking out with silent hopes,
the pleading for a place in the day.
They get dressed as usual
and head out the door
to meet with each other on the streets
not gold, not silver, not paved
but winding, rough, no road signs,
just things they left behind,
ads for new lives on the lamp post
so as to mimic the world.
They nod to one another,
wink when the worry shows,
step aside for the type A
still determined to make a life.
They laugh fiercely
at that old way of being.
They know better now
gathering up all the lost moments
like abandoned children
cooing and patting and taking them in.
The dead are very conscious of family
of bloodlines broken
of hearts left on the line too long
wrinkled and dry
but smelling so fresh when you take them down
and hold them.