“On Loved Ones Telling the Dying to ‘Let Go'” by Reeves Keyworth

Reeves Keyworth


Don’t bother yourselves. Really.
We’re not “clinging,” as you put it
with your gentle scorn for the inept—
“clinging to life” like a minnow too dumb
to expire when a rain pool dries up.
And we’re not sticking around because
we fear to disappoint you.
We’re scratching out a bit of life here,
here on our planet, the bed.
Yes, it’s dimmed, stripped, ugly,
and the pain is awful, but we’re sipping air,
we’re blood and bone; the pulse,
though thready, still twitches.
You think our lack of vanity and ambition
is a handicap to pleasure;
but we’re mostly in thrall
to an inward delirium of memory:
a forest stream flashing with sunlight;
Mother, smoking and reading on the couch;
an Iowa paper boy, wading through
snowdrifts in the winter dawn.
A vivid presence, that mounded snow,
blue-shadowed, marred only by the boy’s
laboring passage, and removed from the muffled
room lights here going off and on,
the muffled, anticipatory sadness.
Meanwhile, your whispered encouragement
to get going, stop hanging around inside
the shell of a dead yesterday,
ascend to a higher plane, et cetera—
it’s scaring us. You used to like us
well enough, and now you’re unlatching
the door to our soul and leaving it open,
like a cheerful volunteer summoning
the rehabbed hawk to leave its cage.
Next week you’ll be having dinner
and pulling closed the solid weft
of curtains against the washed-out
twilight of your sorrow. Solid dinner, solid you.
Remember that the last sound we heard on earth
was you, beloved, hissing in our ear:
Time to go. Time to go.

from Rattle #33, Summer 2010


Reeves Keyworth: “I’d been thinking about this subject for a long time, although I’d never considered writing about it. Then one day the title and the first line arrived together, along with a sardonic narrative voice which I could ride to the end of the poem. The appealing idea that the dying may experience visions from their past came from Oliver Sachs’s essay, ‘Passage to India,’ which discusses a phenomenon called ‘involuntary reminiscence.’”

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