Tag Archives: Death

The acceptable face of insects

Butterflies
a bit like dragon flies
are the acceptable face of insects.
We don’t mind them
of even quite like them.
They’re pretty and flutter nicely
they don’t scuttle like beetles
or slither like worms.
They don’t eat shit
or the dead either (apparently).
People stand there and if they’re lucky
they get covered with them.
We put them on our kids’ lunchboxes,
the brochures of banks.
A stand-in for lightness,
for summer and delicacy.

The thing with insects
with butterflies even
is that they can die very suddenly
with the swipe of a hand
or the beak of a bird
but in essence there are so many of them
that they live forever.

The thing with insects
is that you can kill them by the truckload
without compunction or feeling
the human weight of killing.
How we feel about it for the most part
is based on how much feeling
we imagine what we’re killing to have.
Molecules nothing. Ants not much.
You kill a dog and for the most part
you feel bad about it.
Even more so for a child or a parent
or some other kind of human being.

A cat. Imagine a cat. You’d feel bad
about having to kill a cat. Poor thing.
We measure the birth of our psychopaths
by the fact that they used to tie fire crackers
to the tails of lone strays.
Not at all normal.
But not insects, apart from butterflies,
not right. We wouldn’t take kindly
to a man who crushed them up
one after another in his bare hands
(Pin to a board is mostly alright
but only if it was a hundred years ago
and done precisely).

Today I saw the eye of a butterfly
and in the same moment
saw mechanical beauty and death.
The mathematics of it
The black honeycomb of so many lenses.
This was a dead butterfly
but still quite perfect looking
as is their way.

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Untitled (Vitas)

Woke up grateful
Thinking of Vitas Gerulaitis
And with memories
Of stirring at three
With no thoughts front of house
But a dry headache
And the smell of paint fumes

I slipped back into sleep
Acknowledging that if this was slow poison
I might well not wake up again.

This observation was no more
To that head than seeing
A bird fly by a closed window
Which seems about the right scale
In every respect except my own.

 

In Between Days

I am stiff and without electronics (a word that already sounds old in my mouth),
paper-writing and sat on the reddish tile floor of a tidy English bathroom.

There are prints on the walls of Guy’s and St. Thomas’s hospitals.
Antiquated glass jars (empty) with labels advertising citrates and lozenges,
quinine tonics for the nerves.

All else in sight is modern, albeit with the dust of Victorian design.
A brass pot with a tall rubber plant has a lion’s head with an iron ring through its mouth.
The bath’s hand shower sits on a complicated nest of silver
with lettering for hot and cold from the same font set as the printed labels.
Half walls of tile are embellished (white on white) with wreathes and thistles
while far away we are bombing somewhere.

We being the British who only days ago (the begining of our visit)
did the Scottish agree to remain enfolded with.
The idle minds wonders if this sudden sending of planes
to somewhere would have had a material effect on the vote.

I sit on the bathroom floor because all the beds are taken
in the darkness of an early night.
Tomorrow we will aim to ride our own plane from here
across the Atlantic where those other types of aircraft
have also been sent out bombing in concerted parallel.

I am dying.
We all are, simply at different rates.
Some at our own behest, some at the behest of others.
Most of this, while immediate and urgent (however long it takes)
is circumstantial.
People write about it, mourn it, photograph it, protest it, cause it.

The wolves dies out or are shot.
The deer bloom and deforest.
The rivers widen and the fish suffer.
There is a pause (or not).
The wolves are re-introduced.
Causes are effected.
Changes are observed.
Lessons are learned.
Or otherwise.

And tonight, if fortunate, we go off to bed
at our different times and in our different ways
and tomorrow, if fortunate, we carry on or start again.
Depending.

And it is evolution (in the end and as it happens also)
and all we can consider worthy is any local suffering
that can be alleviated, any anguish that can be forestalled.

And we are mostly small and made so, not just by size,
but also by coincidence, numbers and circumstance.
And then, at some point, for us, that’s the end of it.

And on this bathroom’s floor and separate from the fight
of much beyond my lion and these thistles,
the short clarity of this helps my chattering self
silence not unhappily towards my own sleep.

Fate is the hunter

A small man is sitting in a bar on 48th Street and Broadway.

He is small in head and body as well as in feet which barely reach the wooden floor.

However he is seen to be a man by the age on his face and the sort of clothing that separates men from boys.

Therefore he is a small man sitting in the corner of the bar at a table and alone.

A woman who may be older than him but also may be younger leaves her serving station and approaches him to take his order.

She did not see him enter the bar nor sit at the table alone.

These facts that she attributes to the idea that perhaps he is stealthy as well as small,

Or just one of those faceless people who all along have faces but are thought to be mostly invisible.

She asks him what he would like:

“What would you like?”, she asks him.

He answers in a voice pushed down in register as though his larynx is carefully weighted by a block of stolen lead.

“A glass of beer and the last moment of your time,”

Figs in chocolate

I am going to die, I said to myself in the kitchen not a few minutes ago. I wouldn’t say I had a perfectly clear idea about this, but it was the closest I’ve seen it so far. The thought started with teeth. Mine are poor but still serviceable. Stood there waiting for honey to melt in my tea, half a minute in the microwave, I saw myself older, perhaps 20 or 30 years from now, no longer so vain, but certainly empty mostly in the mouth. Less hair (and there isn’t so much). Restricted movement. Other things. And the knowledge that there wasn’t much time left.

None of this, the older and near to dying part, is of any general interest, but it did shock me to more clearly see and understand it. The shock being in the fact that I have lived so long, seen others die, been somewhat ill even myself, but not really made the personal connection. The intellectual one certainly. I understand the biology, the inevitability, but not the emotional certainty.

Even this moment of clarity wasn’t so very clear. It was not binding or brilliant, just a few less layers of muslin between subject and object. It began as I’d pushed the add thirty seconds button and was waiting without any particular distraction. I began thinking of what it is to have a sick child in the house. Our ten year old has Lyme disease, just yesterday diagnosed. He’ll be fine in a few days, but currently is somewhat under the weather. A little feverish. Slow.

I am sorry for the little chap, but not overly anxious. In his first years, when still a baby, a toddler, any fever or illness would fill up the house and my own nervous system with a skittering heaviness. Part flight, part weight. But now, halfway to his maturity, the worry and its overlay have receded.

He fell asleep in our bed and I picked him up to carry him next door, It was a little before eleven. He is of a good size, for a ten year old, and I realized that if I carried him through the doors between one room and the other I might bang his head, stuck out as it was across the transom of my arms.  I eased him to his groggy feet instead. Let his mother guide him.

The carrying or lifting and holding, even for those few seconds, made me think how few times, if ever, I may do that again. How as new parents we had for many months and years crossed things off the first time they were done to or by him. Baby’s first ride in a convertible. Baby’s first taste of cold soup. Subtly, I have begun to collect things that may be the last of their type. You never know, of course.

All of this (still twenty seconds left) crossed my mind and led me to the days when he may not carry me, but will surely, maybe, observe me in my decayed state.  I imagine myself still talking, perhaps not making sense.

And then I thought of Kilmarnock, and a football player who might have played there, any one I suppose, but in my mind’s eye a midfielder. The most random yet specific image or person imaginable (by me, then). Perhaps just after the war that people of my age call The War. Must have been a good number of them across, say, the nineteen fifties. Midfielders who played for Kilmarnock. West coast of Scotland. Twenty-five miles from Glasgow. Known for whisky (Johnny Walker) and the cholera pit memorial in the Howard Park (1832).

That’s how old I see myself at this end. A man who played for Kilmarnock in 1955 and was, perhaps, 24 or 25 then, would be 83 now, something like that. Some of them must be. Might have bad knees. Or not. Just another man, like myself. Born at a time and fitted into it more or less well. As we do.

And then he faded from me. And there was an insect of medium size, some kind of winged beetle, sat upside down (from my viewpoint) on the kitchen ceiling above me. Ten seconds left. I took some kitchen roll from the counter, tore off a piece and reached up. I am tall and the ceiling is low. Plucked the insect with the tips of my fingers and in the same moment tightened the soft paper into something like a ball. Threw it down beside me, into the garbage. Might have been crushed, dead. Might not. Might have had a night in front of it, rooting through or flying off. Might not.

And I thought of the figs in chocolate, sitting in a box on my desk back in the parlor that I use as an office. And I thought I might rather like one before bed. An indulgence certainly, but still. Free will. And I thought of all our lives, running out and in front of us, behind us and almost gone. All that’s been and will be. The species and the beds and footballers and the small towns, the wars, the anymores, and how much I love my child and how much I am busily in the process of forgetting, how much I have never known. And it was all somewhat cloudy, but absolutely fine, and I knew both those things were true.

Morphosis (the next time you see me, I’ll be gone)

 

[This flesh of womb unwanted / First given by his mother
This chest intact with heart inside / Now’s taken by another]

 

 

See him setting
Out the stall
Of a mind that’s lost its tether

As though now cutting
Through the skin
To make ideas from leather

He takes a hand
That’s rarely served
Fingers four and thumb

He holds it close
Before his face
Removes it from the sum

The feet, the toes
The ankles free
All left to walk alone

No longer does it
Bother him
To lose what was his own

The protruded nose
Becomes detached
Falls through his mouth and chin

His teeth corrode
The ears unwind
His tongue is turning in

The blood is dry
The sinews stretched
The marrow’s all undone

The eyes alone
Remain in place
To see what he’s become

Devoid, bereft
Removed, without
The body is soon gone

Yet what is left
The memory
At peace is moving on

 

for Roy Hardy