Birthday Poems

I am celebrating my 52nd birthday today. And with each passing year, I feel the weight of mortality and the footsteps of death encroaching. It’s a presence I can’t escape, like Bergman’s grim reaper in The Seventh Seal.

In reality, though, you don’t need a birthday to be struck by that feeling. An impending sense of finality hits me every morning I awaken. But I also feel overwhelming gratitude when I am granted another morning, another day, another opportunity to create and share time and space and precious moments with loved ones.

A poem by the late poet Mark Strand seems fitting for this birthday and for this moment in time under COVID. To me it expresses the fleeting nature of existence.

Mark Strand, 1934-2014

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

To Mr. Strand’s words, I add a few poems of my own, all focused on the unavoidable outcome of existence. They remind me to accept the inevitable while still trying to extract meaning out of a life that must cease one day.

Interment

I imagine the coffin lid closing,
the pine box being lowered into the pit,
shovels of dirt hitting the top,
and no one hearing me scream,
“Let me out. Let me out,”
as I realize I’ve run out of time
to make my life count.

What You Get

There is nothing you can do
to avoid becoming dust.
You can try to elongate your life,
but you will expire one day.

And whether cremated
or buried in the earth,
your body will not
survive this world.
Maybe your soul will
travel somewhere else,
but really, who knows for sure?

In this existence,
you are granted only two things:
Right Here. Right Now.
That’s all you get.
So make the most of it.

Awareness

How many people are dying
in emergency rooms
at this exact moment?
Right now, how many people are
exhaling their last breaths?
How many loved ones
arrive too late to say goodbye?

Each day ushers in death—
and while we sleep,
smashed brains, shattered bones,
plugged arteries, faulty hearts,
cancer and other diseases
claim their victims.

We try not to notice.
We try to avoid the truth.
We rush about our lives,
never knowing when
our time will come—
until one day it does.

I can’t live like that.
I can’t avoid the obvious.
I need to face death daily,
to recognize it lurking, prowling,
ready to pounce on me.
This knowledge of death
creeping nearby forces me
to examine my existence
and ascertain if I am useful—
wise with my time or wasteful.

I accept the finite offering
of a limited lifespan—
what little measure
of time God has granted.
It’s up to me to make it count.

Outward Arrangements: Poems by Francis DiClemente (2021).

 

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