Experimenting with Death
I enjoy experimental poetry--poetry that takes risks and challenges the reader with surprising language, unexpected imagery, leaps and (apparent) inconsistencies. These risky experiments seem especially useful when poets tackle a "Big Idea" or concept. Like death.
I think this is because these Big Ideas are so challenging, that coming at them head on with direct language or a simple, straightforward narrative actually detracts, in some ways, from the subject. Perhaps this is why when I read Donald Revell's "Death" this month, the truths it contained about the often unfairness or even unreasonableness of death seemed more accessible.
First published in Poetry, June 2008, it's available to read on the Poetry Foundation website, and I've added it here. I especially enjoy the way Revell turns this "death poem" into a celebration of life, and I've used the lines "if your eyes were green / I would eat them" as inspiration in one of my own poems this month.
“Death” by Donald Revell
Death calls my dog by the wrong name.
A little man when I was small, Death grew
Beside me, always taller, but always
Confused as I have almost never been.
Confusion, like the heart, gets left behind
Early by a boy, abandoned the very moment
Futurity with her bare arms comes a-waltzing
Down the fire escapes to take his hand.
"Death," I said, "if your eyes were green
I would eat them."
For what are days but the furnace of an eye?
If I could strip a sunflower bare to its bare soul,
I would rebuild it:
Green inside of green, ringed round by green.
There'd be nothing but new flowers anymore.
"Death," I said, "I know someone, a woman,
Who sank her teeth into the moon."
For what are space and time but the inventions
Of sorrowing men? The soul goes faster than light.
Eating the moon alive, it leaves space and time behind.
The soul is forgiveness because it knows forgiveness.
And the knowledge is whirligig.
Whirligig taught me to live outwardly.
Shoe shop. . . pizza parlor. . . surgical appliances. . .
All left behind me with the hooey.
My soul is my home.
An old star hounded by old starlight.
"Death, I ask you, whose only story
Is the end of the story, right from the start,
How is it I remember everything
That never happened and almost nothing that did?
Was I ever born?"
I think of the suicides, all of them thriving,
Many of them painting beautiful pictures.
I think of boys and girls murdered
In their first beauty, now with children of their own.
And I have a church in my mind, set cruelly ablaze,
And then the explosion of happy souls
Into the greeny, frozen Christmas Eve air:
Another good Christmas, a white choir.
Beside each other still,
My Death and I are a magical hermit.
Dear Mother, I miss you.
Dear reader, your eyes are now green,
Green as they used to be, before I was born.
Love this poem? Dislike it? Is there a way you can use this poem to generate your own? Let me know what you think in the comments on this post or by contacting me directly!