Image by Rachel Rawlins
Try to imagine death as a phone call. Say
you have just called your mother or the friend
you met last week before you went away,
and say they answer just at the perfect end
of a perfect life, as the moon rises full
of a benign pearly joy that should portend
more joy, just as the tide begins to pull
away from you and that is the very spot
on which you die, in that calm, most beautiful
of places; and say you die, because it’s your lot
to perish by the sea, though it catches you unaware
at the time like a possibility you forgot,
because why after all should you have gone there
but for the possibility of a moon full of joy
and not a death you could meet just anywhere;
say that you know it takes a moment to destroy
a life, to snuff out the moon and the sea and the sand,
to become a distant speck like the dark buoy
bobbing on the tide, to be far from firm land,
a kind of human flotsam, or a space
between constellations, an invisible band
of sky, the weeping memory of a lost face
in another’s grief, the friend, the mother, the pet
left puzzled by your absence; say the trace
you leave behind fades in time as people forget
your precise dimensions and the exact
pitch of your voice, that the vast internet
of the imagination registers you as a fact
without context, swimming in the immense
indivisible particularity of a compact
universe beyond summoning, say that a sense
of loss can be anticipated and is so,
or has been, as a whispered confidence
from one part of your brain to another and you go
round knowing all this for ever, my darling,
as do I, as does the voice saying yes, I know
in the poem, would that be at all consoling?
Say it were so: say it to the moon and to the ear
listening on the phone, to the waves rolling
towards your feet in the darkness, to the fear
of falling and let it go, my dear, let the rain
fall, let waves lap, let the invisible appear.
Known a fair number of them. Heard the first
squeak of them from inside a box or cage.
Watched them dart, look puzzled, scamper, wage
war on shoe-laces, yowling fit to burst,
mumbling of hunger, restlessness and thirst.
Known them draw blood from a fingertip. Known
them attack a flick of hair. Known them leap
off unpredictable ledges and fall asleep
on a doorstep as if it were a throne.
Known them like company but walk alone.
Known those eyes that search yours then grow bored
and turn into themselves, the world gone flat
as sadness. Known them fixed on the faint pat-
ter of rain or the spinning of an old record,
or shirt-sleeves dangling from the ironing board.
Known them asleep for hours. Known the grace
of their long backs arching. Known their mad
devil-possessed scramblings, their jihad
on anything that moves from place to place.
Known set expressions flit across one’s face
as if they were ghosts of thoughts or faint beams
of perception. Known them stretch out and purr
at the slightest touch of brush on tangled fur.
Known them hunched, lost in enormous daydreams
of killing and sexual capers. Watched their schemes
of world domination come a cropper when
distracted by a paper clip on the floor.
Watched them in two minds at an open door
unable to commit. Saw them expect ten
lives, not nine. Saw them hiss and sharpen
their claws on furniture so far pristine.
Saw right into their souls, or what I thought
were souls. Saw the dead things they brought
into the house. Saw them fat and thin,
and saw them end soon after they begin.
Have shared rooms with them. Fed them. Played a while
with the young ones. Have yet to see one cry
though sickening to death. Have seen them die
in old age. Have seen them crocked, immobile,
wounded, run down, left in a bloody pile.
Have known the names to which they gave no heed,
the names of spaces in the human mind.
Have known them hanker after their own kind.
Have known their stomachs blown out from pure greed.
Have known the loss of them. Their mirrored need.
You can hear them screaming from here. In the dark
their voices are fins suddenly plunging upwards
from the walled garden. These are the rewards
of childhood and first darkness. Here is the bark
of the tree that scratches you. Here is the dead
lane with its berries and the cloud’s mussed head.
Here is the steep, the boiling and the loss
of memory. Most noises are lost in the pitch
of the moment, the yawl of light an ordinary switch
plunges to oblivion. Far off, voices cross
like beams. Someone shudders on the lawn,
retching and rising. They’ll sober up at dawn.