Heaven must be dying on time
at the end of a long life, family
at one’s hands, goodbyes hovering
like hummingbirds, which,
if one is absolutely still,
sometimes land on a finger and sip
honey as if from nowhere. One would feel
full as at the end of a rare meal
prepared by an old friend, for which
one has brought a dessert to say
thanks. Whatever one feared,
it did not come to pass, as it never
does, at least not quite
as one feared. There is nothing
to regret because all has been
forgiven, and, anyway, this was
a trial run. And so, when
a newly minted angel
of death comes to the door–she has just
earned her wings, her flight
was unsteady–your family offers
a drink and a seat at the table, which,
of course, she politely declines,
before you joyfully take her hand,
walking backwards toward the exit,
both of you blowing kisses and
laughing like newlyweds boarding a cruise.
The distance between us is
actually composed of time
more than space, though there is space
between us, too, but it’s not
as important. Celebration
can be a kind of grieving, an aspect of grief
and vice versa, which is to say
grief is not necessarily sad. I’m lucky
to have had these few loved ones
die on me, and these few others
live on as though dying, on the
very edge of death, an impurity
that nonetheless cleanses, like
the subtext of a very long,
meandering sentence trailing off.
Adulthood came early,
swooping like a hungry owl, beautiful
and dangerous. That
is what I wish someone would offer:
absolution. Great responsibility
overcame me, an illness, a revelation
as when in Swann’s Way little Marcel
is absolved, his “unhappiness . . . regarded
no longer as a punishable offense
but as an involuntary ailment which had been
officially recognized.” Is a few more
hours of childhood so much to ask? No,
but it is far too much to grant.
And who might one ask, anyway,
without annoying them?
The children everyone loves seem to know
the answers already; they ask
the questions just to be polite.
Nobody knows at the beginning.
Only gradually, as the beginning
begins to end, and then after it’s over,
but before the very end, does the self
reveal to the self what the self
has always known.
There are some things you don’t
write down, not secrets, just facts
beneath the necessity of articulation,
of a minor frequency, a local broadcast
in the beat up, way out town
in your heart, where some uncles live
without wives or other serious ties
to women. These are things you know
to be true, which would be truer
if you found words for them,
as if they were discovered by someone else
who told the whole school before
you got there one fateful morning.
Don’t pretend there isn’t a high school
in you, you just can’t graduate:
you’re not popular there, but at least
everyone knows who you are.
It’s one place you’ll always belong.
Another one about trying to grasp
time, to grip it like a rough rope
sliding through blistering hands,
in which each of his chances
scuttles beyond him, in which he
imagines that through description, naming,
he might make more of his time.
Let’s get to work, try and calm down.
Let’s be nice for a change. Who are we?
It’s the two of us-you and me-or just
myself and another self, also mine,
but less so, like a little cousin,
a drop without a pool to join.
Is it strange that I sometimes feel
like an intruder in someone else’s hometown,
despite, or because of, having been invited?
The mind is a little party where one stands
in the corner and waits
for a fantasy girl to stroll up
and coax one into conversation. Of course
she won’t so one is merely waiting
for an appropriate chance to leave.
In the blink of an eye one such occasion
disappears while another comes into focus.
What would it feel like to live
forever? Would you forget sometimes
and assume your death was inevitable,
that this might be your last taste,
only to be struck dumb, suddenly robbed
of your appetite, when you recall
that you have more time ahead of you
than the gods, who will die
just before you do, when the last atom
of your faith expires, O old one.
Even the gods have their doubts.
Even they can’t scratch every itch.
If you could feel no pain, wouldn’t you
long for it, try and try to hurt yourself
just for a change? Even the gods need a break.
And there’s description: as if
to get into words, and therefore into
the mind, what the eyes
or the ears or the fingers detect
could keep the fleeting world
from fleeing. Who hasn’t
chosen a particularly delicious
memory over, say, a tedious half hour
while a band plays and everyone
is watching them, no one watching you?
You’re free to think? Words are souvenirs.
If I could be anywhere now, wouldn’t I?
Not because I would make different
choices, but because it pains me
to think that I now no longer
have the option to have made
different choices. Which is another way of saying
no matter what we did we would end up
at the end of the long hallway without
doors or turns, just a straight,
inevitable passage, like a bad idea.
Nothing feels right. Feelings
are like someone else’s clothes.
Nonetheless you might be identified.
I make lists when I’m most afraid,
as though, if I just keep at it,
I will finally get home to where
my mother and me are how we were.
Life is as fragile as a sheet of bible paper.
There is only one world, and no one makes it
all the way there. I say things like that
to myself to explain everything I love,
which is trending toward decay.
You are always preparing, preparing,
and then nothing happens,
an eventuality for which you were unprepared.
At the very core of fear is the obvious,
too deep to see and too simple to understand–
professionals have died trying, their bones
lining the path that leads
to the answer, which is complex
but also the same text as the one
inscribed on a plaque by the entrance.
I have yet to meet anyone so different
from anyone else I’ve met. I even recognize
myself reflected in the puddles of others’
mistakes. Did you ever notice how
they pool, making rainbows?
Upon first publication, each page
is like a temple along the pilgrimage
to that most holy shrine, The End.
And so I took the easy way, if only
because I was surprised I even found it.
I’ve been tempted since to try the hard way,
just to compare and have something to say
to the next in line. But there are some steps
you can’t retrace, because something
swept over the footprints behind
or I really wasn’t paying attention. It seems
–doesn’t it?–like the whole world is erased.
There really is no distinction
between worship and superstition.
The heavens are wide enough to hold
everyone’s cries, but too wide
for anyone to hear them. You have
the very pervasive sense that if you just
keep talking you’ll make it,
though embarrassment is only a symptom
of what truly unsaddles you.
You are almost across the covered bridge.
Once on the other side, though, you’ll see
another bridge, this one uncovered.
The snake swallows its tail despite the taste.
You imagine yourself old amongst trophies:
the thick volume of collected works,
dozens of toothy children beaming
out of wooden frames, grounds
stretching in all directions.
And then follows the thought that none of it
can prevent death from strolling
right through the door (no matter how
it’s barred) and then leaving with
exactly what it came for. Heaven must be
smiling on your deathbed as your soul
seeps upward, vaporizing.
Perhaps it’s better to die behind
one’s own back, as it were.
Those who know are never available.
Yet each death feels so exceptional,
as if, simply due to the odds,
some people ought to be spared.
Is there really death enough for everyone?
Is there truly time for so many tragedies?
Death deserves a municipal honor
in every village and town. For who else
tends to all of the sick? Who else takes
in the old? Who else wants us all?
Not even our mothers. In fact,
only death always keeps its promise.
Craig Morgan Teicher is a poet, critic, and freelance writer. His first book of poems, Brenda Is In The Room And Other Poems, won the 2007 Colorado Prize for Poetry and was published by the Center for Literary Publishing. His collection of short stories and fables, Cradle Book, was published in spring 2010 by BOA Editions Ltd. He is Director of Digital Operations and Poetry Reviews Editor of Publishers Weekly, a poetry editor of The Literary Review, and a contributing editor of Pleiades. He teaches at The New School and New York University and lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and children.