A Poem About Death (and Life)

A Nice Belgian Beer
I Had Recently
Here's another prose poem I've been working on, probably 'cause of all the Coronavirus stories and thinking that's been going around. So, I've been thinkin' about death, since it's so present these days.

Thinking About My Death

No one thinks about death. I mean, not their own, not for very long, not for more than say, a minute at best. But even that is a long time to ponder one’s own mortality, to visualize one’s body a corpse in a casket, with others around you, looking, crying over you. Your eyes sewn shut. Your best suit or dress on. Your mouth closed permanently. You there and not there.

When you’re dead, there is no more anything. You’ve eaten your last olive, the really salty kind that you love so much. You’ve seen your wife’s drowsy smile in the evening as you both climb into bed for the last time, or touched her nightgown, a soft satin or cotton, as she brushes past you in the morning getting ready for her day and yours. You’ve felt the corners of her mouth as you kiss for the last time. You’ve felt her her pinky as you hold her hand in a crowd, or the warm sweat pooled in the hollow of her lower back as you both embrace, for the last time. And there was a last time for everything. You just didn’t know it then. You’re done with all your workouts at the gym or runs in the neighborhood or park down the road, or dinners out with colleagues or friends. You’ve told your friends for the last time, “I’m so glad you came by today. Let’s do this again.” But you cannot do it again. You’re dead. You don’t get that. You’ve had all the agains you are allowed.

Your life is done. The period is put on the end of the sentence, the last clause has been spoken, and now there is just the commentary of others, your survivors. People will talk about what you did, or didn’t do, where you went or didn’t go, and you don’t get to say anything. You don’t get to defend yourself, because you’re dead. The writing of your book, or essay, or short or long story is finished. There are no more life-chapters left to write, regardless of where the last chapter stopped. It’s just the snap of the binding and pop of the book closed.

Death also brings out the best in people. I don’t mean the dead. I mean, the living. That’s ironic, I think. When you die, others get nicer, say nicer things, perhaps things they could never tell you, when you were alive, when you were sitting next to them in the office, or on a chair in the kitchen, or when you lie in bed next to them. They cannot say it, whatever it is, to you when you were alive. But now, now that you’re dead, words loosen in people's mouths. Those words choke them. They’ve been holding them like stones in their cheeks for years. The cost of a kind sentiment is cheaper now that you’re dead. Maybe they realize how important their words about you are, or how unimportant the things that kept them from saying their words were. Some call it “perspective.” I call it loss and longing.

It’s okay though. What’s important is that your death helps them be more compassionate, more human, more everything. And this is good, maybe mostly because of the high cost to you, the dead one.

Many people think death is a doorway to someplace else. It’s comforting, really, because it’s a doorway none of us know we are going through. Yet we know we all are headed in that direction, toward the door. Life is a joyful journey toward death’s door. That’s the nature of death, even if you are dying of cancer, knowing you are going to die soon, you don’t really know how soon soon is. So the irony of death’s doorway is that it is a doorway that most do not recognize fully until one foot is already through it and you’ve shifted your weight forward. You are already inside. Some think that it leads to places of light and darkness, of eternal joy or pain. Some think it is nothing. I don’t know what I believe. I just know that whatever anyone believes is just what they believe, which is another way of saying that it’s not right or wrong. It’s something else.