I was frozen in some fragmented reality,
fearful, frayed, and in flight when Dylan
reassured me that after the first death,
there would be no other.
we knew that others would die,
but mercifully each only once,
only one agony to go around,
and that’s how it always is
when the sun stops shining, light breaks and thighs warmed by
candles thrust toward new beginnings,
new horizons, even as skin drops
from bone, even as hope sizzles
on hot pavement.
But there’s pleasure
yet in the death spiral, the free fall
into summer, or spring, or winter
where we are always surprised
by the break of light, the answer
from the dark, and my boy Dylan
grinning under the shroud of
some, well, maybe it is just a
Maybe this time
a halted dawn is literal,
and we will only limp
to the last break of light.
The bulwark is protection
from him, not for him.
He sidles along
Touching the sides,
looking about furtively,
imagining tunnels and
catapults that could,
in another time and
circumstance, be his aids.
He’s come this far,
but in his old age
he has no choice
but to keep searching
for an opening,
for he’ll have no
ingress without invitation.
And at last, he finds
the wound in the wall,
slides through the
and follows what appears
to be light.
You can find volumes of information
On how to die, but the materials are
All prepared by interns and trainees.
The true masters on the art of dying
Have all lost interest in our struggles
With mortality and how to be shed of it.
Still, we want as much information as
Possible, so we can be prepared when
The time comes. We hang eagerly on
The words of those who nearly died,
Just so maybe we can have a glimpse
Of what it might be like to cross over.
All this anxiety and all this preparation
Despite the fact that no one has ever
Failed on this particular mission.
Sure, some begin the process with
Different levels of equanimity, but
They all seem restful enough in the end.
The venerable X. J. Kennedy used a poem about “vile rottenflush”
to illustrate bad poetry in his seminal textbook, Introduction to Poetry.
The poem, he explains, was submitted to the equally venerable Paris Review, but he does not credit (blame?) the author.
The poem about vile rottenflush, he clarifies, is too personal
and subjective to speak to anyone other than the person who wrote it.
He says, “the author has vented personal frustrations upon words,
instead of kicking stray dogs.”
Who am I to question the wisdom of someone
as accomplished as X. J. Kennedy?
I only know that I remember the phrase “vile rottenflush”
four decades after first hearing it. Also, I think the author of “vile rottenflush”
had witnessed a death of someone much loved, and anyone who has watched
the most cherished people in their lives die might understand the poem, after all.
I think this because the poem also mentions “corpseblood” and “ghastly stench.”
No one forgets the smell of a soul leaving the body.
And no one forgets what they see when life is flushed away.
Perhaps “rottenflush” was a novel way of avoiding the now
clichéd references to “putrefying flesh.”
Perhaps it is a way of reminding the readers
That our blood will cease to flow, pulse, and pump,
Only to be left to pool, drip, and stink.
The author of “vile rottenflush” might be accused of being too direct,
But not too personal. Which of us will not overwhelm
Post mortem viewers and handlers with our own
Ghastly stench, reducing them to cries or horror
As they see their fate clearly in our eyes?