Another throwback post – a series of poems about death and loss. These are from roughly 20-25 years ago.


For Laura

I walked toward my house
With my coat folded over my arm
And I thought of you
How you’ll never do the mindless things again

A bowl of lemons at Christmas
A gift from you
It’s easy to remember the smell
That elegant fragrance
And I’m hoping you’re smelling something sweeter

The last time I saw you breathe
Was Super Bowl Sunday
You had less than a month to live
But you were hosting a party
I watched you from behind
Your shoulders heaved as you talked on the phone
Aggravated by something small
It implied some hope
It fooled me

The next to last time I saw you
You were standing in your driveway
You smiled and said you were hungry
I was happy for you
Then you skated stiffly to the porch
Unable to bend your knees as you walked

Every time I see your children
I’ll look in their eyes
And I’ll see your grief
As it was when you cried last year, telling me you didn’t want to die
And we hugged
Much as I hugged your husband
As I silently asked where you’ve gone

At the Estate Sale

Guests are sifting through the wreckage
Of another ordered life
As they advance through the house, how many think of the energy that slipped out of here?
It would be more like a tomb
Even as it weathered a raid by people who would be called archaeologists in a thousand years
For now, though, they just want to haggle for Edith’s crystal goblets

Someone’s trying on her housecoats in the bedroom
While a foursome chirps over the lotion bottles in the master bath
An old woman spent her final intimate moments in those two rooms
But privacy’s not for the dead
Dignity doesn’t matter today
The treasure always stays behind
In the brutal, grand tradition


Flaw of the Dog

A styrofoam cup looks elegant dancing on the freeway

It’s litter, sure

But it’s spinning like ballet

The interstate isn’t too crowded this morning

So the cup has a chance if the wind and the rushes of cars force it to the shoulder

It’s bottom-heavy grace nearly weightless

Unthinking, because it’s foam


I remember a dog on the freeway long ago

Tense, with furrowed brow

Scared and coiled like a spring on the shoulder

I knew it would try to cross

So I decided right then to pull over

Try to back up along the shoulder and lure the dog inside

Just as I stopped, I watched in my mirror as it made the mistake

Killed by its brain

Less chance than a cup


The Unknown Child

A cute kitten (is there any other kind?) stares out from a sympathy card
Young life is cherished so
We lost a chance to contribute one
Gone before we could hear a heartbeat
We have the obvious questions for the heavens
Which doctors try to answer
Our loved ones do their best by sending us sympathetic kittens
Deepening our sorrow

Variables collide
We like to call it fate
I might have been my brother
Had my mother miscarried
Or I might have been my sister

A malfunction of life – it happens just once
And whatever was growing is gone forever
Replaced by its brother or sister
The doctors tell us it’s probably for the best
Only the heavens know for sure

Farewell, fragile one
You left us through a doctor’s common tools
Your mom’s still hurting, still has spasms
She suffers through several new goodbyes each day
And she misses you

I imagine the face I’ll never see
The mouth I’ll never feed
The hearts you’ll never touch
We’ll take good care of your brother or sister
Maybe we’ll meet in the heavens


Cancer Wins Again 

My remarkable grandmother’s 102 years old
And she’s dying
Of course she is – we all are, you might say
But she’s truly reached the end
She has cancer
It angers me
I was hoping she’d die on the wind
In her sleep
After all this time, there should be some type of reward
A short death for a long life
She cared enough to take good care of herself
Cancer doesn’t deserve her

She made it through the Marlboro years without giving in
Chesterfield, too
And I’d be willing to bet a fair amount that she’s had less to drink than me
And I’m 38
She knew the secret of nutrition and health when our favored cuisine didn’t always measure up
She’s almost outlived the entire world
Only to be taken with the same random cruelty

Best of all…
She’s not ready to die
Picture yourself at 102
You might shrug your shoulders and say it’s time
But she’s on the phone sounding disappointed and confused
She’s scared, just like the rest of us
And she wishes she could fight
Maybe she’ll tear a piece from the Grim Reaper on her way out of here
She says she’s dreaming of food


The Long Winter

A cold winter gust came in early spring
The frost stayed all summer and fall
It’s still here
Sporadically changing to what seems like a smile
The thin layer shifts from time to time
With cracks that sound like cackles…

The house looks the same
A place stuffed with warmth
And memories of all those years
The house can hardly hold it all

Here we sit
Waiting for the love inside to melt that stubborn frost
But stubborn is characteristic
And while the thaw might wash away the pain
What else might be lost?

The ice stays put
As on a wire
Crackling and smiling
And dancing in the breeze

We believe in microclimates
Confident that all storms pass with time
And we know the frost will go
When we’re good and ready…

It will drip to the ground
Mix with the water table
Explore dark channels in the earth
Be reborn in the light

A Terse Farewell

Rest in peace, the saying goes
But you look like you won’t
With your lips drawn tight and downward, just like a frown
You were only 37
But you look 50
Lying there in an open coffin
On a sunny afternoon
In your own back yard

The people around you weep and clench
They hug and sigh
And they weep some more
And you look to be echoing the disgust we feel
The anger that life would take you so soon
Take you from your young children
The kids socialize some, and then they cry
Alternately brave and weak
Practice for the future

You lie there scowling
As your husband heaves through another embrace
One of hundreds in these few days
And he’ll still feel wretched and alone when it’s all over

Now we sit through the ritual
The memorial service
Delivered by a therapist
Who assures us of your special touch in the final months
She’s careful to explain the love she can help us to see
Then she mispronounces your daughter’s name…badly
She doesn’t even bother to correct it
Many of us silently gasp
The void will remain a void on this day
And your corpse looks to have grown more frustrated


Tumor Theft

She’s a mother and a smoker
Lost a breast in the war
And it’s just beginning
Chemo dead ahead

He was a father and a leader
Who always followed his nose
Before it was surgically dispatched
Then he died

Loved ones spinning
In the abyss of premature death
Reaching for what was
But it’s not

Research doc can’t understand
Why the cavalry won’t come
But the feeble malignant millions
Aren’t asking for condoms

Outraged to see
My generation
Quietly ravaged
By horrific disease



I’m a keeper of history
A crumbling red leather diary in my hands
The final words on page 29
This or death
It’s 1904
An ancestor whose name I don’t know is losing to cancer
His musings come hard
As he lives the homestead life in hardscrabble Oregon

He wouldn’t recognize where his words are now
A downtown coffee shop
Where poets come to pretend
I’m trying to imagine his unforgiving life as I sip refills
Watching our space-age cars
Listening to rock-and-roll
He would be confused by R-E-M
In a world where where people didn’t think much about rapid-eye movements, or puns
But he might understand the weak and the sick who wander our streets

January 20, 1903, page 5, before disease
Day-by-day single line entries
Mostly weather reports
Cold the same as has been
Colder yet high foggy
Snowed all fore noon
But weekends brought social flurries
Fri 23
Dudley went town
Sat 24
Went to the Dalls
Sun 25
Carni to John Day staid on
And then
Few mentions of women
Seems there were mostly lonely men on the range
Friday, February 27th
Pleasant herding sheep

My cats wait at home
So they may entertain when I’m finished trading blows
And I hold my fiance’ as we observe how difficult it all is

One relatively chatty entry steers me back to 1855
When veterans of the Indian War met again
Don’t know what that was
But I can imagine, and I wince
Met in Portland at Grand Alma hall and had a good dinner
good speaking a good time in general
We step back further the next day
Went to pioneers dinner still in Portland
me and mother
M.S. Short and wife marched with the pioneers of 1836 to 1859
and eat dinner a good one too
The toasts might have been to the Indians, claiming they deserved what they got
Rifle blasts from the pioneers
And now, their ancestors manipulate the land
And the Indians lure them to their casinos
Having learned that hopelessness is no way to take revenge

Sun 28(July)
John Wesley 200th birthday
Perhaps he was reading Jules Verne

May 25, 1904, The beginning of the end
I came to the Dalls took the 1
took once a day for 9 days then laid off
Sat 4(June)
The cancer is very sore now
Mon 6
I have taken 10 treatments now and better
Fri 10
Rained last night
More single line entries through July 26th
Taken treatment ill
And he set the pen down for awhile

The back of the diary, page 90, undated
Meditations titled “The Soul”
A dictionary definition and bible verses
The eyes of our soul begin to see when the eyes of our body are closed
He must have wished to fill the entire book
But he settled for writings on both ends
As he dies, he is more prolific
October 24, 1904, page 26
The big cancer came out this night
it is hard large lump
with many roots running down the pelvis
and the roots may not all be killed yet
there has been four large lumps taken out now
and we hope all is out
On November 26th, he’s in Portland, telling the tale of desperation
An aching man at the doctor’s office, he negotiates the price of “the cure”
down from a thousand dollars to eight-hundred
Did the physician realize the hopelessness as he stashed the cash in his coat?
And my relative wrote
I cannot help myself
It’s this or death

92 years later…
I read the clumsy words with emotion in my throat
I know why I write
Because the eyes of the soul should never be closed
They help our children to see




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