June 23, 2017

Jennifer Perrine

I TELL DEATH, EVENTUALLY

when he comes for my friend but stares at me,
looks me over like a tasty treat. He’s

standing in the doorway of her hospice
room, leaning against the jamb. He’s got a

pie in his hand. He’s, unsurprisingly,
a very old man. When I first spot him

from the corner of my eye, I expect
only an underlayer of bone, scythe

and cowl no mortal may see. But he’s dressed
neatly: checked button-down shirt, faded jeans.

He’s no threat to any reasonable
person, especially holding a pie

like it’s a Fourth of July picnic, like
it’s harvest time, and we’re all giving thanks

for the bounty we’ve received. My friend’s still
in her bed, silent save her breath. Death

does not approach, only holds out the pie
as if to say, Come, eat. His big dentures

flop loose in his mouth. I want to tell him
go home, it’s not her time yet, keep your eyes

to yourself. Those aren’t the words that come out.
All I say is, eventually,

which is, of course, what he’s saying to me
each time he shows up for a friend. That’s it—

eventually—as if shrugging off
a lover’s touch—not tonight—not to say

it will never happen, but that the time
must be right. But I’ll have no more say than

my friend. At the end, I believe she’ll wake,
even after the monitors switch off.

Death no longer stands watch, just a man who
caught sight of me crying and doesn’t know

whether to leave me alone. He lingers,
aftershave crisp in the fusty air. When

I am ready, when I would say to Death,
take me, too, he is gone, leaving only

the pie, still warm, the cloying smell of peach,
and what can I do in my grief but dig

a finger through the crust, pull up a crook
of cinnamon muck, and suck so I’ll know

what Death will taste like, tart but ripe as spring,
as birds gathering in trees to collect

every last fruit, the trappings of Death not
tie and suit, not black robes, but flour sack,

winding sheet rolled thin by hand, vents so steam
might rise like our breaths. Crumbs drop to the floor.

I look at what’s left of my friend, the mess
I’ve made of my own hands, the room’s empty

threshold, the nothing standing at the door.

from Rattle #55, Spring 2017

[download audio]

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Jennifer Perrine: “I love a poem that slows me down. So much of life feels like imposed haste; I want poems that give me no choice but to slow my pace. I often feel overwhelmed by the social pressure to be quicker, do more, multitask, but a good poem reminds me that I don’t really value that way of moving in the world.” (website)