death

when I am dead–when the world outside or inside my body
has brought it to a halt–
when I am dead, my bones will still be queer.

and if I am lucky enough to be buried straight into the ground,
the dirt my body seeps down into will be queer
the little flowers, the worms
the oxygen the plants breathe out
all queer as the day is long

and if tradition gets the better of my wishes,
in all that needless shining weight
the atoms of my coffin will be queer 

or the button that my baby brother pushes
to change my body into ash
the button, and the fire, and the smoke

if I should die of old age married
to a kaleidoscope
that our foolish language calls a man

or if I should die somewhere
in the flash point of hatred 
watching sacred spaces evaporate
like water on hot stones

a sign on my chest and my jaw working
trying to get one last kiss blown
one last showtune belt out 
one last middle finger up 

while the world that has given me everything
takes also everything away 

either way: hello, for however long,
and to have been once goes on forever.

when I am dead, my bones will still be queer. 
the little flowers, the worms. 

Someone I hadn’t seen in a long time died today.

We were never terribly close; he was older than me during my awkward adolescence, and we stopped living in the same place more than a decade ago. Much of his adult life I know nothing about. But this I do know: every single time I ever saw him, he was kind.

I may not believe in an afterlife in a traditional sense, but I do believe that if we could strip away the illusion of time we would know that everything that has ever happened, every moment that has ever taken place, is happening forever. So here’s to cracking jokes walking the late-night streets of Shoreham, New York–eleven years ago or eleven seconds ago.

Thank you, Mark, for always being so nice to this weird girl trying to hang out with the cool older kids. I never forgot.

This was the song he asked his wife to post after he stopped making any more moments. The choice probably tells you a little something about what he was like.

some words on death

I’ve been so focused on the horrific political violence in the news and in the world lately that I found myself caught off-guard by feelings about other kinds of loss.

Seven years ago, in December, a boy I knew died. Young man, I guess. He seemed so much older than me, and it baffles me to think I am five years older now than he was then. An acquaintance, I guess, a friend-of-friends, very close to people I would later be very close to, a crush more than anything else, someone I wanted to know better than I did. Twice this week I’ve come across textual references to his suicide that caught me by surprise. 

How strange, when googling someone I met in college, for the absurdly innocuous reason of trying to accurately remember the color of her hair– I had somehow forgotten she had written his obituary in the school newspaper. 

Reading a book about death by someone who knew him better than I did, I should have known it was coming, but I was still so ill-prepared. The brief remarks hit me right in the guts. Thud, thud. 

I suppose the shock of losses do not fade, but rather they are joined by others and that changes them. A polyphonic chorus swells until the coda of its hearer’s death.

Sometimes I stop believing in time,

(sometimes lately I can’t stop feeling terrified that my father has died when I remember no one has heard from him in weeks, that he never called me back when I stood waiting for a stoplight to turn on his birthday and sang into his machine, that even though I know my uncles would know if anything really bad happened and someone would tell me, the thought keeps jolting through my brain)

(sometimes lately I can’t stop feeling terrified that this boy I spend some time with will get hit by a bus or fall off a building or any number of things I’m scared to write down because I don’t want them to happen, I get terrified that suddenly he’ll just drop out of the world and I know this is my anxiety talking, the obsessive-compulsive evidence of how much affection I’ve come to feel, and really I should just get some cognitive behavioral therapy and get laid more)

and I know that each moment that occurs hangs somewhere in time, and we are passing a handle of Jim Beam back and forth in someone’s living room until you fall asleep there and I stumble home, always. 

This starts out about one thing, and then becomes about some other things, but ultimately is all the same business. 

Today Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic sudden death from an apparent heroin overdose has been all over my social media feeds, vastly overwhelming the Superbowl (or Puppy Bowl)-related posts, or the usual buzz of “come see my show!” and “my friends are/this food is really phenomenal.” Instead, my friends–many, many of them actors and directors–are posting clips from his films, photos of him, even fond memories of meeting or knowing him. He was one of the most universally admired actors of our time. I have by no means seen his entire body of work (I kept saying I would wait until I finally read In Cold Blood before watching Capote), but have always greatly respected him. Synecdoche, New York is one of the best movies I have ever seen. I thought about what to post, what to say. I kept scrolling through my feed.

And there, nestled amid the PSH posts, and the sports talk, and the usual business, were a couple of posts from members of my family. Three years ago in early February, my cousin Denise died suddenly. We saw each other rarely and were not close; she lived in Alabama, and was about fourteen years my senior. But I remember vividly the last time I saw her, a family gathering down South a few years ago. She was a kind woman. A nurse. Two young children. 

I don’t recall the medical details, just the mental image that flooded me as I cried into the telephone: a woman alone in a hospital bathroom, falling to the ground. 

I didn’t really know her, barely at all, not enough for the phrase “missing her” to make any sense. But I see the words written by her younger child, now, I think, in the seventh grade, and weep. I think my own strange thoughts:

Sometimes when I’m lying in bed with you and you’re asleep, I stare at your body, waiting for the next slow breath of deep sleeping, and when it comes I realize I’ve been holding mine, heart racing, because any one of us could die at any second, but if it was you, if it was you I think every bone in my body would break at once, giant carrion birds tearing through my mouth for weeping. Every screen would go dark, a last twitch of static spelling out your name. The sun, burning out and dropping, like a peach pit in the snow. 

null

“The piece below was written by Marina Keegan ‘12 for a special edition of the News distributed at the class of 2012’s commencement exercises last week. Keegan died in a car accident on Saturday. She was 22.”

Pardon me while I grossly weep over a stranger’s death. Sometimes clichés are such because we need to keep hearing it, that despite the endless repetition we still can’t always get these things into our heads. Sometimes it takes the horror of dramatic irony, the howling voice of Rilke’s youthful dead to make me hear a thing.