DEATH LONG DISTANCE
By Bonnie Arning
The night you died I tried to find a sign
of your passing. Something obvious:
dry leaves swept up in a dust devil, a spider
the red of your hair. It was you
who taught me to make a bird by hooking my thumbs
and inching apart my fingers. Fitting then,
how your doctor should use that motion
to mimic the tumor as it swooped across your back.
We sent you to die twelve-hundred miles from
your stone bird bath and the chiropractor
who never left his wife for you, hooked
to a mechanical bed scribbling journal entries like,
today I ate an apple and felt my hair sprouts
shift and glow. I should have called—I should have
asked a nurse to hold the phone to your ear
while I sang shantih shantih shantih in a soft voice.
Why didn’t I have the courage to tell you, death
is no betrayal—die when you want to. The chemo,
the injections, the amputated leg: you did it all
for us. Instead of going to your service
I should draw faces on the foam heads
that hold your wigs. I should draw your face
in eyeliner all over my room. Come back—
the trees here are hungry for your ashes.
Yesterday I glimpsed movement in the milk-fire
of your rough-cut healing crystals. Energy
in the palpitating ribbon of distant heat. Wasps
swarm and ride each wave. You—
swarm and ride each wave.
(Today’s poem originally appeared in 2River View, and appears here today with permission from the poet.)
Bonnie Arning is a poet from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Currently she is pursuing an MFA from the University of New Mexico and acts as the managing editor of Blue Mesa Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Cream City Review, Gargoyle and 2River View.
Editor’s Note: My father passed away on February 26, 2012. I had found, and loved, this poem before my father took to his deathbed. Having taken a bereavement leave from this series, upon my return this feels like the right poem for reentry.
Today’s poem reminds me of the many blessings inherent in my father’s passing. That, despite living 2,500 miles away, I was able to be at his bedside in hospice, to coddle and love him on his way out of this world as he did for me, so many years ago, on my way in. That I was able to sing in his ear and tell him, over and over, how loved he was, that “death is no betrayal—die when you want to.”
Bonnie Arning, in her beautiful, simple words and aching truths that emerge from the depths of grief, has shared with the world a poem that allows for communion within a space where communion can feel both critical and unfathomable.