Poets Online Archive
Death Personified

The poems here came from a prompt suggested by the "Death and Grief" chapter from Poets Companion, co-written by Dorianne Laux and Kim Addonizio. The model poem was DEATH COMES TO ME AGAIN, A GIRL by Dorianne Laux

"Ours isn't a culture that accepts death or encourages much thinking about it. It's important that we as poets work to avoid such denial." They use Marie Howe's poem, "Death, the Last Visit" (from The Good Thief) as a model. "Howe imagines death as a dynamic, powerful lover, the moment of dying as orgasm."

The contrast with Laux's poem that pictures death as a giggling girl is dramatic. And yet, both poems look at death in a way that we are unprepared to look ourselves. No grim reaper in black to be found here.

Write a poem that gives life to death - personifying it in some way that is unlike any way you have read previously. Whether you portray death as kind or cruel, gentle or harsh, welcome or feared is not the key point.

"... don't try to get it all into one poem, to make some single pronouncement. Though death is a large subject, the way it enters our lives is often small..." 

"Death Comes to Me Again, a Girl" is from What We Carry - - also by Dorianne Laux - Awake , and Smoke .



Death

comes in all its innocence
not unlike a child.
With no malice
and certainly no fear of what it is.
Its movement and touch more random
than we might have imagined.
Drawn (at times in a way that even Death
has never quite understood)
to those in pain.
They wish to see him.
(or see her - that part is easy)
and they draw Death to themselves.
But more likely she is curious -
passing an accident,
the hospital room
or an attraction to one of us
that brings Death -
A kind of love that we can not understand
in this world, that we will one day embrace
as warmly as we have tried to embrace
this life that seems to shrink from our touch.

 

Pamela Milne



Trading Secrets

My daughter says that
Death is like a car wash-
a sudsy cleansing

and then soft hands
with dry towels
when the machine stops.

She told her father this
when she came to ease
his dying.  And he

told her to hold her golf
club like a stick of butter
if she wanted to beat par.

When my time comes, I will tell her
to  read Rilke and Kunitz and floss
her teeth at least twice every day.

Susan Sapnar


Guidance

Death is a well-honed midwife
Who ushers you over the threshold
From this life to the other
Coaxing you through the pale
To the lightness beyond.

Margaret R. Sáraco


Visitation

At night

I box myself into bed with a dream; when I wake you are
still dead and blue. Rather than toss and turn until I'm black
and blue and blue, although its black

outside, I decide to take a walk.
You step from your painting to join me.
Does it lie on top of you? Did you charm the cloth to your grave?

The nail waits in a board.
Will He not let you visit in the day? Did He move
your painting? Does God keep you for himself, a lover?

Are the walls of Jericho beautiful?
 

Diane Hoover Bechtler



I Rain

Did I rain in grief,
tears from a clear sky,
sudden, unexpected,
a cloudless squall
come and gone beneath
a faint prismatic arc?

I consider the blue,
the empty wide expanse,
a slow path of sunlight
as horizon blurs to dusk,
shadows become night
and darkness eases a pain.

In a clear, moonless sky
I rain, silent and alone.

James M. Thompson 
 



the presence

it was a small town
slowly dying;
it was only a question of time.
someone at the funeral home
gave us directions
to the little cemetery.
i sat beneath a large oak tree
and watched as she looked for her grandmothers grave.
when her head bowed i knew
she had found it.
she took pictures of the headstone
to show her dying mother
who had never seen it.
as we drove back into town
she said, she was there.
i asked who? knowing her answer.
grammy she said, i could
feel her presence.
there was no need to answer.
several days later we sat at the table
looking at the developed photographs together
across the face of the headstone she photographed was the shadow of two
women,
one holding a camera the other a cane.
like the one in our bedroom closet,
that belonged to her dead grandmother

ray cutshaw


For Jeff

Yesterday,
three weeks past your death,
and still,
for me, you are at work,
at home,
out of town,
taking a class or simply
dreaming
by a sacred fire in your
backyard.
Trying to explain to
others how it
feels when the mind
comes too close to
reality and feels like a
moth almost touching the
flame is something I
cannot do.
The smell of your leather jacket
hanging in our closet
after death,
a gift to my husband,
your other friend, starts
Technicolor memories before
my eyes shutting out
moments of clarity.
I watch as you smile
and wave and walk
off the front porch
where you have
smiled and walked off
so many times before,
but you
always came back
to eat at our table,
listen to our music,
pet our dogs,
cry on our shoulders,
marvel at our garden,
sit by our pond,
identify the birds,
watch a movie,
drink a beer or
a glass of cheap red wine.
You always came back
your open invitation in hand.
It is three weeks and counting
the times we will not see you
again, the places we will not
go together, the confidences
we will not share, the leaps
of faith we will not take,
the flights of fancy abandoned,
because three weeks ago today
you found something so
profoundly interesting, you
simply could not wait for us
and smiled and waved
one last time.

Karen Kimbell



Death, An Intimate Moment

she came at about 3:15 in the afternoon
rather early, I'd say
but then I really didn't have any say in it

she whispered my name
her voice was like roses
I looked up, and she was smiling

she looked to be a young woman of twenty
her eyes, though, betrayed her age
this "young" woman, petite and fair skinned, had eyes as old as time

"Already?" I asked
she nodded
"But ... it's too soon."

her eyes took on a look of sadness when I said that
and I felt a twinge of guilt
"I'm ... I'm sorry."

she took me in her arms, with understanding
and I laid my head on her shoulder
my eyes watered a bit, touched as I was by her comfort

after a while she lifted my chin, and
leaving my tears soaked into the fabric of her garment
I looked her in the eyes

"Are you ready?" she said, in that same delicate voice
"Do I have a choice?" I said
she chuckled at that, knowing that I was only joking

she pressed a hand to my heart
it fluttered at the touch
I suddenly felt very safe

then she kissed me with soft lips
a kiss that took my breath, and my life, away from me
and I thanked her as they left

Daniel Fiorelli


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