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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Kindle Countdown Deal

I just wanted to let people know that I am running a Kindle Countdown Deal on Amazon for the ebook version of my poetry collection Outward Arrangements. It runs until May 11 and the price is $.99.

Outward Arrangements Cover

And the Goodreads Giveaway ends on May 9. You can enter the giveaway here.

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Spring Snow

A blast of spring snow hit Central New York last night. And guess who the idiot is who transplanted the shovels and snow brushes from the backseat to the storage unit miles away? I should have known winter isn’t done with Syracuse even when the calendar turns to spring. Next year I’ll wait until late May before putting away the snow utensils.

Snow covering my Honda CR-V. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

Snow behind my apartment building dumpster. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

The snow reminds me of a very short poem I wrote. It seems fitting for today.

Leaving Syracuse

The grass may not
be greener,
but at least
it won’t be
covered with snow.

Snow covering grass. Photo by Francis DiClemente.

 

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Outward Arrangements Available

My full-length poetry collection Outward Arrangements: Poems is now available in both paperback and ebook versions on Amazon.

Outward Arrangements Cover

The book includes 26 color photos that were originally posted to my Instagram account, inspiring the companion poems. I had previously posted a few examples here.  Now I thought I would share a few other excerpts from the collection.

The Last Leaf

The last maple leaf
did not want to leave the tree,
even though his mother
told him it was time to go,
time to break free from the limb
and fall to the ground.

The little leaf said,
“Why, why must I leave
when I can still cling to this tree?”

“Because,” his mother replied,
“it’s part of life, the cycle of nature—
we drop to the ground during fall
and return in the spring.
So come on, let go.”

“I will not. I will not,” the little leaf said.

But a stiff wind stirred and the leaf
lost his grip and twirled to the earth,
falling into his mother’s grasp.

“See, that’s not so bad, is it?” his mother said.
“No Mom,” the little leaf said.
But then he asked, “Mom, am I still a leaf
if I’m no longer connected to the tree?”

In Need of Houdini

You are wrapped in chains
and stuffed in a metal chest.
The key has been discarded
and the box dumped
into the ocean.

You can’t stretch your legs
or flap your arms,
and you’re stuck in the box—
unable to lift the latch
and swim free.

How long can you
hold your breath?

The Great Equalizer

The democratic nature of parenthood.
It doesn’t matter who you are—
man, woman or trans, gay or straight,
Black, white or any other shade,
tall or short, skinny or fat, rich or poor—
when your toddler is wailing
in a grocery store or shopping mall,
when the feet are stomping, the arms swinging,
the cheeks reddened and the tears rolling—
all you want to do is pick up the child
and make the crying stop.

Wealth, social standing and comely looks
mean nothing to kids; they’re not impressed
by your credentials and you can’t negotiate
with these little angels and tyrants who rule the world.
Two clichés apply here:
parenting wipes the slate clean
and levels the playing field.

All mothers and fathers desire the same thing—
the health, safety and
development of their offspring.
The goals are simple amid the frenzy
of a life marked by stress and lack of sleep.
They are: eat the chicken nuggets, drink the apple juice,
recite the alphabet, put away the toys, finish the milk,
wave bye-bye and go down easy at nap time.

An Epiphany

I’ve discovered
the key to happiness—
the realization that
there isn’t one.

You can’t coax
happiness or
make plans for it.

You can only
attain it by accident
through the act
of living itself.

Point of View

Look outward
beyond yourself—
flee the space
inside your head,
and seek the magic
of the world instead.

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Outward Arrangements Poetry Book

I am in the final stage of preparing my latest poetry collection for publication. I am going the self-publishing route via Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon and IngramSpark for wider print distribution. Suffice to say, there’s a lot to learn and I’m nervous the whole thing will be a mess when I confirm my title and hit “publish.”

Outward Arrangements Cover

Here’s a description of the book:

Outward Arrangements is a full-length collection of narrative, observational and meditative poems written in free-verse style and covering such topics as identity, self-esteem, health, family, parenting, advancing age, nature and the evanescence of existence. The work is a journey of discovery, as the author looks both within himself and in the outside world to seek meaning in everyday life.

One section of the book originated as the text in Instagram posts, with the poet sharing his delight in making odd revelations—like finding an empty baby stroller parked on the sidewalk, a pair of Chuck Taylor sneakers left underneath a city park bench and an old pay phone toppled and splayed on the ground. Here the poet pays close attention to his surroundings, observing things that could be easily overlooked, and using those objects of chance as the starting point for stories. The photos that sparked the poems are included in the collection.

Using raw and honest language, the philosophical poems in Outward Arrangements pose universal questions, reflecting on what it means to be alive today and addressing issues and emotions that people wrestle with in their daily lives. In this way, the collection is accessible to a wide range of readers.

Back Cover

If anyone is interested in reading an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads or Amazon (after publication), please email me. I can send you a PDF of the book. Thank you!

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Palm Sunday Poem

I wrote this poem a few years ago, and it has added meaning since I haven’t attended mass since the pandemic hit last year. I dusted it off today for Palm Sunday and revised it.

Palm Sunday

Looking at the attendees
at mass this morning—
a mix of people
holding palm fronds,
a diverse collection
of human specimens,
cells and blood wrapped in skin
and topped with hair.

We are bodies
moving toward death,
passing on a journey
leading to dust or fire,
burial or cremation.
But does the soul live on?

No one knows
for sure if a spark of life
exists after death takes hold.
But faith allows one
to accept this uncertainty,
trusting in the words
Jesus spoke and the work
he accomplished.

And so we celebrate
his entry into Jerusalem
on this Palm Sunday,
while acknowledging Good Friday
will come for all of us.

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