Monday, July 17, 2017

What comes after

  I thought I’d try to leave some thoughts on how I eventually came to reach a sort of homeostasis with the fear of death for my son to one day find in the form of this poem. Turned out it’s not easy to put into words. In fact, I’m going to venture out on a limb and say it’s impossible. Such understandings must be discovered—they can’t be taught, disclosed or otherwise imparted. The best I can do is leave a few bread crumbs that may or may not lead my son to eventually finding his own peace with the inexorable reality of the circle of life.

  In writing this poem, I did ask myself how I came to my current place of peace with death. The answers were slow to come even to my own mind. It’s a peace found in the seat of the soul, so deep and so obscure that it evades all attempts to grasp at it. But I did come by many important insights, some of which I found words for. But these words would only mean something to one who has already acquired a similar understanding. To the rest, they would be meaningless as the ramblings of a lunatic—not all that useful for the goal of this poem.

  So what small bits of wisdom could I impart to my son’s future self, considering there’s no way at all to impart the understandings I’ve come to acquire? Well, maybe this is at least a start:

What comes after

One day it will dawn on you:
this is not forever. Like the milk
in the fridge, the multigrain bread
on the counter, the lupine blooms
by the driveway, you too have
an expiration date.

This notion may come with a sudden
sense of shock, electrifying waves
of terror. You may try to imagine
existing beyond existence, awareness
beyond the withering of skin,
the bubbling putrefaction of flesh,
the slow return of bone to dust.

Your imagination may conjure images
to mind of all long decomposed
humors magically resurrected,
judgment at the feet of a golden
almighty, or angels leading the way
to long green valleys rowed with white,
columned mansions. You may imagine
nothing, suspended in eternal, black,
weightless solitude—or perhaps
the eternal peace of a dreamless sleep.

When the time comes, I imagine you
will ask me, eyes wide with wonder,
love and anxiety—me, who merely
helped bring you into being, as if I
had somehow unlocked the secrets
of all—what happens to the driver
of all these years, months, days, moments
once the engine of living has ceased to run.

Though I have also pondered
such questions for a lifetime, I will
have no concrete answer for you.
Though you will find many opinions
and declarations of faith from nearly
everyone else, I will offer mostly mystery.
Though friends and family will speak
with inflexible conviction, as if they
themselves have traveled beyond
the thin, black veil, strode the great
marble halls beyond, and returned
to tell all, I will have no simple response.

What I can tell you is that some comfort
may be found in mystery, the kind
of comfort one finds in looking upon
the full moon at midnight, the soft white
river of stars on a moonless night,
the deep green rolling expanse of pines
from a mountaintop, or the all concealing
blue-green wake of the sea, forever
hurling its thunderous foam on the sands.

I can tell you whole lifetimes are wasted
fearing the unknown, years frittered away
dreading the long, thin shadow that falls
on every brow, the cold, grey hand
that cups every shoulder. I can tell you
that one who spends his days marking
that shadow’s slow approach through
time—who merely passes all waking hours
in solemn wait for that last chill touch—
is one who will never know the wild thrill
of spring blossoms arching up an alpine
vale, who will never wonder at the sight
of massive lenticular clouds amassed over
wide autumn valleys, will never feel the giant
triumph of cresting a rocky peak in the broad
Sierra backcountry, will never test and find
his limits or discover what hidden reserves
of strength lie within—will never
                                                actually live.

I can tell you the question itself is misleading,
for it draws all thought away from where
life is—here, now—to a place beyond
the sound of wind in tall desert cottonwoods,
beyond the touch of morning sun on the cheek,
beyond the smell of sagebrush through wide
open windows, beyond the sight
of thunderstorms lumbering flashes of light
in the distance, beyond the electric taste
of love’s first kiss—beyond all that is living.

A more important question, perhaps, is, “What
happens before we die?” After all, this is where
everything takes place.

And for the most part,
                             you get to decide the answer.

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