Poetry About Death

Poets write about many things. One is death.
Another is love. One could easily fill many book shelves with the love poems written just this year.

After working out this little ditty which touches on the part of death I call ‘the leaving and being left,’ I discovered another jewel by John Updike. It looks at death from the point of view of the artist (his).

I’ve added the brief reading video of the Updike poem below. If you enjoy poetry, art, are an artist, or may face death someday, it is worth a couple minutes of your time, in my opinion.

 

Let me Die

Please don’t sigh, when I cry, just kiss me now
and let me die.
Let me go
now to be.
Look at me and you will see,
when again together,
in death we’ll be.
Sigh and walk away –
to live what life’s left for you,
Not to fret and do not let
us to mourn this life or even death.

We had our time in love sublime
as you kiss me now upon my brow.

Bill Reynolds 11/01/2018

Perfection Wasted by John Updike

Wow!
Look both ways; to life and to death.
Respectfully mind the gap; it’s where the dying lie.

Will I Care? Don’t Talk Like That!

The past happened without me, as will the future.
Beginning on what day will I no longer get out of bed?
Unable to remove the mask and walk away,
to pee or whatever. Will I know anything?
On what day will I no longer want coffee?
I can handle not to have. But not to want?
Does nirvana or moksha reflect happiness or denial?
On what morn I’ll no longer begin a day’s reading?
Is not my quest for knowledge stewed in desire?
To have and to hold, to want and to need. To care?
There’s more I want to know. Will I care? Do I?
Must I stop loving her on that day? As the Jones song goes.
Will my dignity be intact, or will it be the first to go?
Will I die in a puddle of shit? As many would see that as fit.
Will I remember my name, yours, where I am? Will I care?
Is there such a thing as death with dignity? Or do we
just pass on to return life for life? Don’t talk like that?
Away and towards. Turn, turn, turn. Say I love you.

I care.

I do.

Love you.

 

© Bill Reynolds 10/15/2018

Look both ways; to the beginning and toward the end, when gaps no longer matter.

Essay: God do what?

While I say I don’t pray, I kind of do – accidentally. A believer might consider my praying to be blasphemy, but so is embracing atheism or agnosticism. As with so many words, blasphemy is only a thing if god exists (like sin), and it is only bad if you happen to believe in god (Satanists not withstanding).
No god = no blasphemy, no sin, no hell – make sense?

I have a few old habits and knee jerk reactions I’ve tried to shed without success. Two phrases I use too often are God damnit! and God bless you. In both cases, I am apparently invoking the supernatural to my wishes. But since intent matters, in the case of god damning, few of us mean it. In the blessing case, it is an old version of universal well-wishing when people coughed or sneezed. It goes back to the bubonic plague days in Europe. How well did that work?

Since I speak fluent profanity, I don’t blurt out the damning one very often. I’ve always been more of an f- or s-word guy. Yet, if someone near me sneezes, I usually have god blessed them before their next breath or sneeze. I’ve been doing that most of my life. When I don’t say something, I feel like an ass. I need to use gesundheit or one of the other secular phrases from around the world, of which there are many. This sounds like fun.

‘Thank you for covering your mouth and I wish you good health. Live long and prosper.’ (Vulcan Salute)

I used to pray often and for many people, but I didn’t pray for everything. I didn’t pray for rain to start or stop, or for any other change to the weather. I never prayed for bad events, personal wealth, or my own health. I don’t know why, but all that seems in bad taste. Likewise, I would never have prayed for anything bad to happen to any other person, unless you count the god-damning of nouns.

I carried a notebook where I kept notes of who to pray for and why. Seriously. People would ask me to pray for them or for some other person. If I didn’t write it down, I’d forget. Weekly, I would go late at night to a chapel room at our church for what is called perpetual adoration, and there I’d pray in the actual presence of the body and blood of JC (Holy Eucharist). That’s why it was there.

God was literally several feet away in a gold sunburst thingy called a monstrance, behind a tiny piece of glass, in the ‘actual’ form of the body and blood of Christ. He and I were alone most of the time. If what the Church proffered was true, I prayed a lot of folks straight to heaven – big IF. That was then. I still carry a notebook, but not for the same reason.

I’ve often prayed for dead people. That is customary for Catholics. Most Catholic parishes have a Book of the Dead which contains the names of the deceased loved ones we prayed for on All Souls Day (November 1st). It’s called praying for the ‘repose of the soul of’ the people we assumed might be in Purgatory; not in heaven yet. That’s how they say it. The repose part was to get them to heaven. A good thing, right? Just an odd way to say it.

Yep. Praying for other people, especially dead ones, was my favorite. Most of my other praying was reading (often aloud) from prayer books; prayers of adoration, love, or general holy stuff. I had my favorites and I still like what some prayers say. Like this poem by Mary Oliver:

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

— From “The summer day”;
New and Selected Poems 1992

I am sure that many protestants thought the real presence deal was bull shit. Maybe they were envious. The last time I prayed and was serious about it was about nine years ago.

When people say they will pray for me, I am unsure how to gratefully and gracefully decline the offer. I was diagnosed with cancer. People unaware of my atheism would offer to pray for me. If I requested a pass, they ignored me. So, I just said thank you and moved on.

Some who know of my unbelief would offer to pray, but then would backtrack. I would thank them and explain I understood the intent. I used to pray. I know why people do it.

 Lori Arnold’s (McFarlane) memoir, The Last Petal Falling, talks of her experience regarding prayer. That helped me realize I should be more diligent to replace prayer with action, honest love, or the offer, how can I help?

I usually don’t care what others do. Read a book, contemplate their navel, drink scotch, listen to disco music, meditate, or pray. I think one of those is wasted time, but that’s for others to decide. It’s not my business. Even if others pray for me. It’s okay. If that’s their thing, have at it. However, there is one well-intended prayer I would adamantly decline, if asked.

I hope no one wastes their time praying that god forces me, or any atheist, back to religion. It’s hard to explain, but that’s insulting. It is asking their god to take away my free will. If someone believes in god, I accept that as their belief and I’m ok with that opinion. May they cheerfully return the acceptance.

This kind of ‘praying’ usually involves more famous atheists. For whatever reason and given all the dumb-shit stuff there is wrong in the world to pray for, or all the people who are in need, especially the children; why so many people find it necessary to pray that an atheist will come to the opposite conclusion is mind boggling. I understand why some may wish and hope for change for loved ones. But it is still wrong.

One of the most prayer-group-prayed-for persons in US history was the late Christopher Hitchens. He was a famous writer and atheist of celebrity status who often debated with religious people. These people needed to find something better to do with their time than to pray for atheists (agnostics, free thinkers, skeptics) to stop believing as we do. It is insulting and demeaning. I will personally never recant my atheism. Never. Ok, if god physically shows up, I will. But not due to prayers.

How would a believer feel if atheists prayed for them to apostatize? What if we asked their god to turn them into atheists? How would that sit? Admittedly, a believer would see it as a damning petition. In a way, when people pray for us to recant, it’s the same thing; that we’re damned to hell simply for what we think.

I have a right to believe what I think truth to be. It’s unnecessary for anyone to respect what I believe (or don’t), but at least in quid pro quo fashion, one should give the nod to my right to believe it. Praying to take away that right, or doing so in the practice of one’s religion, is an attempt to take away an inalienable freedom: my right to think.

Some religious folks have the piety to keep their religion to themselves, but too many don’t. In many cases, that would be against their religion. If they must do something, they should follow the many religious who do something useful. If one knocks on my door, I may ask them to read my tract and come over to my way of thinking. Many do.

Look both ways and allow others the dignity to do the same.
Think. It’s free and helpful if you don’t over do.
Mind the gaps.

Poetry: Soul Satisfied

Prompted by: ‘Smoldering coals of fury with which oppression always fires the soul.’ (1862)

Anger burned like acid surging through his body,
deadly rage ran unfiltered with each breath
as in shame he hid and buried his anger
as it called out for vengeance – for satisfaction.
He felt the scalding physical pain of revenge withheld.

He felt how the inhumanity man can deal to his
fellow man is without comparison.
Only man hates his own. As only man can
kill without reason and crush his kind
without purpose or cause, leaving no real hope.

He felt helpless as despair hardened him.
His broken mind and heart pleaded for him to let loose
the righteous fury growing inside as hours, days,
and years passed in the agony of painful misery,
hatred pounded his chest to be loosed
as his purposeless worthless life festered.

He spoke to his anger about the promise
of a better life, but not for him.
His was to live into his dream
of revenge and retribution with the fury
of the spurned prisoner held within him,
but for not much longer.

Soon he would defeat their world.
Soon he could kill them all,
and his hate would feast on their flesh.
All the pain and suffering would be avenged.
Then he could die in peace,
with honor avenged, pride returned,
his life’s purpose satisfied.

©Bill Reynolds

 

Look both ways, be careful what you wish for, and speak up for the oppressed.
Mind the gaps. Learn where they are.

Poetry: Your Time

Both afraid and unafraid,
full of fury and stunned by fear,
he stood insecure
and timid
with no comfort, spending his day
in worry, fretting and wondering,
‘what will people say?’

From his platform in the sky, he looked down
on the maybes and what ifs,
and he heard the voice ask: ‘why?’
He closed his eyes and softly spoke,
‘I’m afraid!’

The voice was soft and calm,
‘do as you wish,
not as others say,
this is your time,
your day is today.’

He moved closer to the edge.
His body was shaking,
his eyes crying,
his knees buckled as the voice kept saying,

‘to live you must die and die again
as you suffer pain of mind and body,
today is your time, now will never be again.’

As he stepped out from his comfort platform
into the abyss of reality he fell.
His body emptied itself, so sure it was
that he was bound for hell.
Down he went, just falling.
Falling away from and toward. But there was
more the voice had to say.

‘Again and again, for the rest of your life
you must step to the edge and jump
into your strife. Fear is your friend,
but let not worry be your master.
Jump, jump, and jump again.’

© Bill Reynolds 9/13/2018

 

Look both ways, all around, up and down.
Then jump.
Mind the gaps, but deal with them when you live into your question.

Poetry: Let Love Kill Me

Some say I’m angry.
I’m not. Not much.
I have regrets, that’s honest.
Or is it?

I wish I’d never made one single mistake.
Not one ‘oh shit.’ But, I have. I did.
Is there a pride hidden behind my scars?

Tense dark and gloomy feelings
may bleed from within me,
but they’re not what I am.
Have I found that which I love?
And will I allow it to kill me?
To take me away? Why not love?

Who and what am I?
Am I a line in some poem?
A thought?
A feeling?
The sum of all my yesterdays?
Am I what I seem? (are you?)
Or a dream?

There’s much that I am
and some that I’m not – here and now,
yesterday I was, but he’s now gone.
Perhaps to be in some tomorrows,
yet to be as I am, or what I’m not.

I am not gone. I am here. Hear me,
touch me, feel me, kiss me.
Love me.

Read my thoughts into your mind.
I’m not lost, not gone. I am here,
just here.

No mistakes. No regrets. What’s left?
To live – into life’s many questions;
into the mystery of poetry
with softly spoken breaths.

© Bill Reynolds 9/10/18

Look. The gaps? Oh, yes! There are gaps.

 

A Poet’s Week of Poetry

Taken on my walk this morning. Prickly pears are ripe. Edible, but buy in store and use leather gloves to prepare.

A week of poetry

I listened to the Frank Sinatra Radio station on Pandora during my walk this morning. Good music that makes me appreciate why so many cringed as the rock and roll era dawned. Enjoyed it, but I’ll be back to Thumbprint tomorrow morning.

So, Friday is my birthday. Question: when you become older than older-‘n-dirt, how old are you? I have arteriosclerosis (crummy circulation), heart disease and an effed-up aortic valve, and now I’m looking at “radical” surgery on my left forearm to ensure all the cancer is gone. Oh, and I drink too much wine (beer, coffee). Every day I’m gladder to be alive than I was the day before. Yer only dead once. That can wait. Right?

In ‘honor’ of the year I will spend transitioning into the mid-seventies (proud baby boomer), I plan to post at least one poem each day this week and two on Friday (B-day). These are quick little ditties done in less than 15 minutes each and tweaked very little. Some are exactly as first written. Here’s why…

I’ve read (in On Writing and others) that all first drafts are shit. I agree when it’s prose. I have written good enough poems then tweaked them to death trying to make them better (perfection?) and ended up letting them ride the hard drive for eternity.

Last year I posted a poem about my frustration with my poetry (click here to read it). I never know about my poems, so I often overwork them (not the first time in my life I worked harder than I needed to). I’m currently working on some that I’ve knocked around for over a year. Sometimes it’s cuz my muse got another call and failed to get back to me. Sometimes, I end up with something I like. Sometimes I’m skeptical, but you like it. Go figure?

So, if you read my poems this week, know that they are sunny-side-up or only tweaked to over-easy. They’re a little raw, but thankfully brief. Happy Sunday. The first poem:

Tanka Poem – A Feather

How life passes by
We see, as we feel the breeze
so like the feather
life moves us from here to there
how we love and how we care.

Bill Reynolds – 7/21/2018

Look both ways, wander often, wonder always. Mind the gaps and respect the abyss.