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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Issue
Poetry

Death Poems


One



             TO GROW OLD IS A JOY PRECEDING THE BIG ONE.
                             Death is a dark chocolate cake,
                        sweet, and filled with deep blue tortures.
                                    A gold and ivory crown
                        decorated with damp moss and pearls
                                          is less heavy.
                          The great blue heron sails overhead,
                                   her crop filled with frogs,
                                         making a shape
                                         of tendoned grace.
                                       A feathered hand and arm
                                            rise and point
                                       where the stream flows.
                                                  But that
                                                 is imagination
                                           as the rest is. It is form
                                         and emptiness that I die too;

                                                           IT
                                                           IS

                                                        where
                                                the end and beginning
                                                     are a car chase
                                               in the movie about warring
                                                  armies of mimes.
                                            It is ordinary as a window sill
                                                 with worn gray paint
                                          and dull as a bent license plate.
                                                It is the smell of a box
                                                to be dropped in a fire
                                                          and ashes
                                          thrown in the eye of a hurricane.
                                              A bonfire made with icicles,
                                                        is like this.
                                               It is a burning up of losses.
                                     Sweet and filled with deep blue tortures,
                   TO GROW OLD IS A JOY PRECEDING THE BIG ONE









Two



                 DEATH IS COMPRISED OF DEEP BLUE TORTURES
                                and filled with dark chocolate cake.
                                   Birth has gone with the losses
                                         of endless imagination.
                               A round brown leaf whirls at the tip
                                            of a spider thread.

                                                          I
                                                          n

                                                          l
                                                          a
                                                          t
                                                          e

                                                    Winter
                                                I will study
                                   the whiteness of plum blossoms
                                 and look for knots in an old trunk
                                    at the edge of the forest fire
                                          near some deer bones.









Three



                                        A DEEP BLUE TORTURE
                                  is fearing your death more than mine.
                                     White plum petals fall on snow
                                                in Chinese poetry
                              and the beauty of the streaming of all these shapes
                                        is fascinating. Your smell and touch
                                        move through mine like red and blue
                                          wildflowers in the meadow
                                              beyond the brick wall.
                                           At night the black cat would shred
                                           the calico cat but there’s a window
                                            between as they jump and growl.
                                                           I think
                                                             they
                                                      love each other.

                                   Battling through walls is a deep blue torture.
                                          Your death would end spring.
                                               See I forget the dharma.

                                    To the sensual fly buzzing in my ear
                                          I am a warm good-tasting stone.









Four



                               FOUR YEARS OLD, DICK TRACY DIES
                              in a backyard playhouse, nursed by the girl
                                           from across the street.
                                           We unbutton my shirt.
                                     My skin and breath feel funny.
                                                   It is sexy.
                                              My detective hat
                                               hangs on a hook.
                                              I die for Justice:
                                                      a hero

                                                       <<>>

                                     The plane drops ten thousand feet
                                 toward the China Sea. Yellow oxygen masks
                                             flop from the overhead bins.
                                  Someone begins her heart attack. Death
                                           is a gray endlessness
                                         as the ship levels out into flight

                                                       <<>>

                              John F. Kennedy commands Nikita Khrushchev
                                    to remove the Russian hydrogen missiles
                                                  poised in Cuba.
                                     Puppets shake nuclear fists.
                                                      Surely
                                               this is my last night

                                                        <<>>

                                           Nothing hurts like death
                                                    by old age,
                                                or shitting to death
                                       in a fever of dehydration and filth,
                                             or being cut into ribbons
                                                   and gobbets
                                                 on white rubber sheets,
                                            while young people watch
                                                 from the bedside.

                                                  How little I learn
                                            of the limitless dharma
            — TO GROW OLD IS A JOY PRECEDING THE BIG ONE

Contributor

Michael McClure

Since his 1955 debut at the Six Gallery reading where Allen Ginsberg first read "Howl," Michael McClure (1932-2020) has been one of the most significant and well-known poets in the U.S. Mule Kick Blues and Last Poems, the final book he completed in his lifetime, appears this month from City Lights Books.

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APRIL 2021

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