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At the Hour of Your Death

January 22, 2010

by Karen Stromberg

a chaplain appeared and it was as if
my father, that constant joker,
had waylaid the elegant white-haired
minister we’d envisioned
and herded in a tiny Filipino nun
for our amusement and to lift your despair
over having just died in a hospital’s
generic white gown
with your hair uncombed.

The nun spoke an earnest language,
not quite English, not Roman Catholic,
but full of breathy spaces
where the Holy’s would have gone
if we hadn’t mandated Presbyterian.

We were mesmerized by her quick
index finger, eager to make a sign,
repeatedly reaching out, jerking back,
over your breathless sternum—
Mother Mary so unspoken
she was everywhere.

I could see my father’s fine
Irish hand in this, his knack
for making you and your mirror image
break into laughter
when humidity had panicked your hair
or your hemline had forgotten
to contradict the stock market,

how he would hold out his arm, and
filling the mirrors with emptiness,
sweep you off
into the deep and starry night.

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Karen Stromberg favors flash fiction, the ten-minute play and short poetry. She does not accept the boundary between life and death.

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  1. Maureen Jivani
    January 22, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    I love this. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. pat
    January 22, 2010 at 4:54 pm

    How wonderful! Thank you.

  3. January 24, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    There is no boundary to dispute or accept!!

    Thank you–beautiful–

    • Karen
      January 24, 2010 at 6:10 pm

      Thank you, Beth. That’s a lovely story about your grandmother and the gift she received.

      We have several very different but similar stories in our family and it’s always interesting to note the reactions to hearing them: acceptance, relief, denial, outrage.


  4. oriana
    January 24, 2010 at 6:33 pm

    Fabulous! Oriana

  5. January 24, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    I loved this when I first heard it and love it still – may we all have just the right guides when conundrum boundaries appear, or disappear, or whatever it is they do.

  1. August 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm
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