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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Glimpses of Existence: A Short Film

Glimpses of Existence, an experimental/documentary short film in the form of video collage, premieres tonight at an online film screening presented by NewFilmmakers New York.

Using poetry and scenes captured with an iPhone—both before and during the pandemic—the film attempts to find meaning in the mundane moments of our lives, seeking the extraordinary amid the ordinary.

Noir Smoke. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

The central focus of the film is my son, Colin, who has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Despite his condition, Colin finds joy in everyday activities, and through his eyes we recognize the importance of treasuring the tiny segments of life we are granted—minutes, seconds, hours—while being reminded about the transitory nature of existence.

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Pigeon on the Sidewalk

I saw a dead pigeon on the sidewalk while walking to work yesterday. I moved around it, heading along Fayette Street toward Salina. But I decided to turn around and come back to the scene and observe the dead bird.

Dead pigeon on the sidewalk. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

I also snapped a picture—my motivation being I wanted to capture an image of the lifeless form as a reminder to myself that my time on earth is limited, that death awaits me. We can’t escape mortality. In one way or another, we all become pigeons splayed on the sidewalk. And while it’s a sobering thought, it helps me to value the life I get to live today.

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Insomnia Poem

A bout of insomnia last night produced a short poem. At 3 a.m., my five-year-old son Colin and I were both wide awake. While he squirmed and rolled around in bed, I covered up to prevent getting struck by his flailing elbows and knees. And in the early morning darkness, these words came to me:

Manifesto for Dejected Artists

To create is to make something
that did not exist before—
something no one requested
and something the world
does not want or need.

And yet, you decided
to make it anyway.
So now it’s here for others
to accept or reject.
Either way, your job is done.

And I have realized from experience that if some lines, words, thoughts, characters or plots float in my head when I’m in bed, that I must jot down the ideas immediately or I will forget them upon awakening.

And on a totally unrelated note, here is a photo of Colin holding his pre-K diploma, which he received on the last day of school on Thursday.

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A Camus Quote

I am currently reading Albert Camus’s Notebooks 1935—1942, and I found this little piece of wisdom from the section May 1935 to September 1937. I thought it was worth sharing, and I hope you find some value in the words.

“One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within this sadness I feel a great leap of joy and a great desire to love simply at the sight of a hill against the evening sky.”

Camus, Albert. Notebooks: 1935-1943. Knopf, 1963.

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A Sunday Poem

Sunday Malaise

The August sunlight
entering the room
cannot quell
the dreary feeling that
overcomes me every Sunday.
Lying in my bed,
listening to Brahms,
while trying to take a nap
to fill the afternoon.
Waking up later,
the room shrouded in darkness,
with the day erased,
bringing me hours closer
to Monday morning,
and a reset of the week—
safe from harm:
Sunday still far away.

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Life is an Ice Cream Truck Parked on the Street

While waiting for the CVS store to open this morning, I saw a Perry’s Ice Cream truck parked on the side of the street. The wording on the side of the truck read, “LIFE IS A BOWL OF PERRY’S ICE CREAM.”

Ice cream truck. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

The statement seemed like an invitation, or a conversation starter.

In my head I took the first two words— LIFE IS—and filled in the blanks. The result is my stream-of-consciousness list:

Life is blissful.
Life is finite.
Life is fleeting.
Life is futile.
Life is wonderful.
Life is hysterical.
Life is sorrowful.
Life is bland.
Life is fine.
Life is OK, sometimes.
Life is full of laughs.
Life is a pain in the ass.
Life is what you make it.
Life is all we’ve got.
Life is a gift we’re given.
Life is something we take for granted.

How would you fill in the blanks?

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