When do we die?

Does it come in the still
Of a room in a home,
When you stare at the ceiling,
Face your going alone?
Or in the hushed temple
Of intensive care,
Disguised by the mask
Full of industrial air?
The head falls aside;
The breath leaves in a sigh,
With no one who loves you
To wish you goodbye.
Is that when we die?

Did it come when the kids
Had made lives of their own?
So long protected, now
What they do is unknown.
Dust floats in their bedroom,
Posters curl from the walls.
Gone are their voices,
Their heavy footfalls.
Just you two remaining,
Bound by years that rushed by,
And avoiding the truth
That love’s river runs dry.
Is that when we die?

Did it come on the day
You were excess to need? –
Through falling demand,
Or by birthdate decreed.
Your labours are ended,
So grasp freedom, you’re told.
But stripped of all purpose,
It’s your task to grow old.
You’ve a lifetime of knowledge
On which people rely,
And yet you’ve been ousted
By some younger guy.
Is that when we die?


Does it happen when your body
Won’t follow your mind?
When you can’t span the ninth,
Trace the pattern designed.
Can’t hit the ball,
Run with the kids anymore.
Hand won’t grip chisel,
Can’t keep pushing the saw.
Screen; canvas; needle –
Beyond the reach of your eye.
Thrown it down, turned it off! –
You’ll no longer try.
Is that when we die?

Or did it come at the end
Of the days of romances,
When no one would share
In the best of all dances?
Smooth flesh on white sheets
In a dappling of sun.
Now the cruel rags of time
Say love’s season has run.
No more kissing and laughter,
‘Til a groan meets a cry.
No more merging of souls
In a tangle of thighs.
I think that’s when we die.

I wrote this before I’d really got to grips with the technicalities of metre and rhyme – they just invented themselves as I started to hear the words in my head.  In this case it resulted in a lolloping rhythm – typically two anapests (loll-o-ping, loll-o-ping) per line.  It feels an oddly jaunty rhythm for a poem about death.  But I think it makes for a nicely ironic counterpoint to the subject matter.

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