Tag Archives: death

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Richard Fleming, ‘His Room’

It took five minutes, more or less,
to fill, with what he left behind,
a cardboard box and to compress
into its space, his life, unsigned
in much the way some paintings are,
then stash it in the waiting car.

In those five minutes, I remained
there in the small, vacated room,
while the red-faced landlord explained
a small arrears. Would I assume
responsibility and pay?
My conscience made me easy prey.

*****

Richard Fleming writes: “Growing old, I find myself preoccupied with life’s endings: a balancing of accounts, so to speak, and the inevitable feelings of regret and remorse for things done badly or left undone. Deliberations of that sort inspired this piece of verse, as did the lonely, final years of renowned Guernsey-born novelist, G B Edwards, the demise of an old friend in similar straitened circumstances and, of course, Larkin’s famous poem, Mr Bleaney. I think ‘His Room’ manages, despite its brevity, to encapsulate the ‘whimper’ with which some lives end. A simple rhyme scheme seems best suited to the poem’s mundane subject matter.”

Richard Fleming is an Irish-born poet currently living in Guernsey, a small island midway between Britain and France. His work has appeared in various magazines, most recently Snakeskin, Bewildering Stories, Lighten Up Online, the Taj Mahal Review and the latest Potcake Chapbook ‘Lost Love’, and has been broadcast on BBC radio. He has performed at several literary festivals and his latest collection of verse, Stone Witness, features the titular poem commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day. He writes in various genres and can be found at www.redhandwriter.blogspot.com or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/richard.fleming.92102564/

Photo: “Emptied cardboard box” by Creativity103 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Brooke Clark, ‘At a Child’s Funeral’

Today we give to the earth the body of our little girl,
our little darling; we’ll never watch her twirl
around the house again in her impenetrable games
or listen as she wheedles and whines our names
in that annoying tone we tried to break her of before;
now we’d give anything to hear it once more.
She’ll find whatever waits for all of us when this life ends–
eternal silence or the souls of friends–
while, left behind, we bow our heads to see what prayers can do.
Lie lightly, earth–she stepped so lightly on you.

*****

Brooke Clark writes: “‘At A Child’s Funeral‘ is loosely adapted from one of Martial’s epigrams. This poem interested me because it’s quite a departure from Martial’s usual satirical style. In it, he attempts to convey a genuinely tender emotion, which is well outside his usual register of scorn verging on disgust. That made it a departure for me too, and I struggled to get the tone right — emotional without being mawkish. I hope I succeeded! In terms of form, it’s in rhyme, and uses alternating 7-stress and 5-stress lines in imitation of Martial’s elegiac couplets.”

Brooke Clark is the author of the poetry collection Urbanities, the editor of the epigrams website The Asses of Parnassus and the book reviews editor at Able Muse. Twitter: @thatbrookeclark

Photo: “Filipino child funeral” by Ted Abbott is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Styx’

Black waters,
deep and dark and still…
all men have passed this way,
or will.

*****

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original epigram, written in my teens, returns more than 6,000 results. I started writing poetry around age 13 and decided that I wanted to challenge the immortals around age 15. I was always very ambitious about my writing. When I couldn’t out-write Keats and Shelley at age 15, I destroyed everything I had written in a fit of pique. I was able to reconstruct some of the poems from memory, but not all. I still miss a few of the poems that seemed promising which have not cooperated with being resurrected.”

Michael R. Burch is an American poet who lives in Nashville, Tennessee with his wife Beth and two outrageously spoiled puppies. Burch’s poems, translations, essays, articles, reviews, short stories, epigrams, quotes, puns, jokes and letters have appeared more than 7,000 times in publications which include TIME, USA Today, The Hindu, BBC Radio 3, CNN.com, Daily Kos, The Washington Post and hundreds of literary journals, websites and blogs. Burch is also the founder and editor-in-chief of The HyperTexts, a former columnist for the Nashville City Paper, and, according to Google’s rankings, a relevant online publisher of poems about the Holocaust, Hiroshima, the Trail of Tears, Darfur, Gaza and the Palestinian Nakba. Burch’s poetry has been taught in high schools and universities, translated into fifteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, set to music by twenty composers, recited or otherwise employed in more than forty YouTube videos, and used to provide book titles to two other authors. To read the best poems of Mike Burch in his own opinion, with his comments, please click here: Michael R. Burch Best Poems.

Photo: “Styx” by wilding.andrew is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Into the Cryonics Dewar’

We had no destination ever, from birth,
save into the ultimate ocean, or ultimate fire, or ultimate earth.
Now we have not quite so ultimate ice.
For now, it will have to suffice.

The chance of reanimation from cryonic suspension may be small, but still greater than the chance of reanimation after cremation or burial in land or at sea. And I guess we now have a fifth option – ending up off-planet, adrift in space. But in effect that will be a variant on “not-quite-so-ultimate ice”. In space you’d end up near Absolute Zero, as with cryonics – but whereas with cryonics there is the miniscule hope of eventual reanimation, in space your ultimate fate would be that of all space debris: drifting for millions of years until burning up into a star or planet, or getting sucked into a black hole.

Life, death, quite fascinating. Not many options for changing the outcome, though various billionaires are throwing some of their money at the search for immortality, as people have done since at least the time of the pharaohs and early Chinese emperors. And why not? think it’s “just science fiction”? For thousands of years we used to dream we could fly to the moon, and that happened eventually…

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin #274, July 2020. Thanks, George Simmers!

Photo: cryonics.org

Poem: ‘Leadership Transition’

Julius Caesar, Antony, King Lear,
Hamlet, Macbeth – corrupted, vain, impure,
Irrational, bombastic, insecure –
He’s no more clarity or veritas
Than the deceptions of a covert war,
All morals blurred.

That tyrant rant, Tyrannosaurus roar,
Forecasts he’ll suffer a dictator’s fate:
His proud obsessed confusion first seems great,
Then grates, unravels at the seams, slips gear,
Loses its moral metaphors, grows crass;
He dies absurd.

Octavius, Malcolm, Edgar, Fortinbras,
Comes from the wings and strides to centre stage –
Competent, measured, reasonable, sane –
To rule the wreckage of the tragic reign;
Restores some structure, closes out the age,
Speaks the last word.

This archetypal character’s strong thump
Will get his nation out of the morass;
The raucous self-styled hero being dead,
A truer leader takes the throne instead.
(How Shakespeare’d end the Tragedy of Trump
Can be inferred.)

The common fate of Shakespeare’s flawed protagonists–death, and replacement by a more worthy ruler–is a story that humans enjoy and wish applied in their own times and countries… although they may naturally disagree on which ruler is disgraceful and which would be more worthy. Speaking for myself, I don’t need to see a death–I’d be happy for Putin and Trump to avoid assassination or jail by going into comfortable exile at a golf hotel in southern Russia. (You read it first here.) But Shakespeare would deal with them more definitively.

This poem is the third of the five poems published this month in The Brazen Head. Its four stanzas are in iambic pentameter with a short 6th line. The rhymes largely carry over between stanzas–the 6th lines only rhyme with each other. The rhymes and the stanza structure are designed to create a sense of satisfactory achievement–exactly what I feel with Biden taking over from Trump. (Similarly I would love to see Navalny take over from Putin, and almost anyone replace Boris Johnson.)

York Minster – June 2013 – Emperor Constantine – One Cool Dude” by Gareth1953 All Right Now is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘We Know We Will Be Dead’

We know we will be dead, who are alive.
But should some element of us survive –
fragment of consciousness or memory –
what value could it have? What should it be
that the whole universe might benefit?
The atom matters – what’s not made of it?
And we’re not large – not like a conscious star
(if time will let us all evolve that far).
You’re not much different in real magnitude
from an ant crushed for going for your food,
a gnat rubbed out, its tiny consciousness
a dot… but does it build the universe?
If that gnat can’t, I don’t see how you can:
there’s not much difference between gnat and man.

Does a poem of 14 lines, rhymed in pairs, count as a sonnet? Perhaps, but it doesn’t feel quite right. Petrarchan and Shakespearian sonnet structures, with more complex structures of rhyme, produce a much greater impact with the final line–a sense of revelation, inevitability, an impression of absolute truth–purely by the successful rounding out of the pattern. I like this poem’s ending couplet… but it would be stronger if the previous 12 lines were better structured.

‘We Know We Will Be Dead’ was published in the most recent Allegro, edited by British poet Sally Long.

Hubble’s colourful view of the Universe” by Hubble Space Telescope / ESA is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Sonnet: ‘Voyage’

Some watch the widening, receding wake
On life’s long voyage. Others at the bow
Scan ahead, wondering what route we take.
(But Past and Future point to one end, Now.)
When disembarked, what will your story be?
“I looked back, couldn’t tell where we’d begun…”
“I tried to look ahead, but couldn’t see…”
“I read lots.” “Slept.” “I made friends.” “I made none.”
“Sunsets were nice.” “The food was just so-so.”
“I helped someone.” “I tried, but got in fights.”
What’s next?
Aboard Earth round the sun all go,
Each spinning whirl hundreds of days and nights,
Through scores of rounds. How’d we get here? Don’t know.
Then each, some unknown -day and -where, alights.

This poem was originally accepted for Contemporary Sonnet but, as far as I understand, when Charlie Southerland took over from the previous editor all the online passwords had been lost, and the magazine folded. So the poem went to Verse-Virtual instead. Given that its subject matter is the unpredictability of life, such changes for the poem’s own voyage are quite in keeping.

Ship’s wake” by Dany_Sternfeld is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Odd poem: Robert Frost, ‘The Draft Horse’

With a lantern that wouldn’t burn
In too frail a buggy we drove
Behind too heavy a horse
Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.

And a man came out of the trees
And took our horse by the head
And reaching back to his ribs
Deliberately stabbed him dead.

The ponderous beast went down
With a crack of a broken shaft.
And the night drew through the trees
In one long invidious draft.

The most unquestioning pair
That ever accepted fate
And the least disposed to ascribe
Any more than we had to to hate,

We assumed that the man himself
Or someone he had to obey
Wanted us to get down
And walk the rest of the way.

At a poetry reading in the Library of Congress, Robert Frost apparently described “The Draft Horse” as a poem “that nobody knows how to take“. That’s one way to look at it. Another way is that everyone who reads it seems to quite confidently take it in a different direction.

It has been called an allegory of the atom bomb–but, though first published in 1962, it was actually written in the 1920s, long before the bomb.

It’s been called an allegory of American expansionism.

It has been suggested as “a metaphor for the lives of ordinary citizens in totalitarian states, such as Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and West Germany.” (West Germany. Really.) “Then the man could be an agent of the government, who does what he deems necessary and then disappears again.

Again, “In many cultures, the horse is traditionally a symbol for power. The horse has played a large role in American history. Robert Frost’s The Draft Horse may be a reflection of the power struggles he saw around him and the senseless actions he perceived in the conflicts.

How about “One analysis of the poem is that fate is unavoidable. Why struggle to stop or question fate when by its very definition it cannot be stopped?

Here’s the complete commentary from one blogger: “I’m on a bit of a poetry moment right now. The Draft Horse by Robert Frost is possibly one of the best poems ever written and well worth sharing with anyone willing to read writing at it’s highest art form.” (“it’s”, sic. Also, he miscopied one of the lines as “Any more than we had to hate,” thereby losing the meaning.) A more extensive commentary is in a comment posted to that blog:

I love this poem ! i think it is a great description of postlapsarian life. Laterns wont burn buggies are frail, the horse is too heavy.the night is so dark …
amidst all that a fellow deliberately stabs your horse.

People of good will are always hesitant to blame problems on hate.
and any way walking is a fine way to get there

And then there’s this thesis towards an M.A.:
WHY I KILLED THE DRAFT HORSE:
THE GOLDEN BOUGH, ROBERT FROST, AND “PROGRESS”
by Eugene Charles McGregor Boyle III

August 2013
The absence of criticism on Robert Frost’s “The Draft Horse” suggests that it is a challenge to Frost scholarship. This reading views Frost’s strange and neglected poem as a return to a monomyth offered by James Frazer’s hugely influential The Golden Bough. In “The Draft Horse,” Frost reconsiders the concept of ceremonial sacrifice that undergirds Frazer’s encyclopedic study of world culture and, by performing ceremony as a kind of modem poesis, Frost complicates the hero/sacrificial object role and critiques the progressive ideology that grounds Frazer’s account to fashion a troubling epic for modern America that implicates its national readers in a kind of savagery.

(Supported with references not just to Frazer’s “Golden Bough” and Eliot’s “Wasteland”, but also Dante’s “Inferno” and Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu”, among others.)

Here is another take on it: “This is a very simple, straightforward story, but the reader cannot just leave it like that. Why would Frost have written this poem if he had only wanted to say “a stranger killed a horse”? The reader is therefore faced with the fact that “The Draft Horse” is a symbolic poem that must be read at another level, otherwise it has no purpose.

Well, why does it have to have a “purpose”? It’s a poem, for god’s sake. Maybe the poem “means” exactly what one or other of the above-quoted commenters thinks… but maybe Frost just had a strange dream. Or maybe someone had told him of an incident. Maybe the rhymes and images just floated around in his head. Who knows? Who cares? It’s a poem and, for some reason, it resonates (differently) with a lot of people. It’s an odd poem. Enjoy!

“Horse and Buggy on a Bush Track” by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies is licensed under openverse from WordPress.org

Potcake Poet’s Choice: Michael R. Burch, ‘Epitaph for a Palestinian Child’

I lived as best I could, and then I died.
Be careful where you step: the grave is wide.

Michael R. Burch writes: “This original epigram once returned over 90,000 results for its second line and still returned over 4,200 results the last time I checked. The epigram began as “Epitaph for a Child of the Holocaust” and was set to music by Sloane Simon after the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting.

It has been published by Romantics Quarterly, Poetry Super Highway, Mindful of Poetry, Poets for Humanity, The New Formalist, Angle, Daily Kos, Katutura English (Namibia), Genocide Awareness, Darfur Awareness Shabbat, Viewing Genocide in Sudan, Setu (India), Brief Poems, Better Than Starbucks and ArtVilla; also translated into Romanian by Petru Dimofte, into Turkish by Nurgül Yayman, into Czech by Z J Pinkava, into Indonesian by A. J. Anwar.”

Michael R. Burch has over 6,000 publications, including poems that have gone viral. His poems have been translated into fourteen languages, incorporated into three plays and two operas, and set to music by seventeen composers. He also edits TheHyperTexts.

“ICU child Shifa hospital, Gaza” by Kashklick is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Poem: ‘God Modernises’

We sealed Joe’s body in its envelope
for dropping in the mail slot in the ground,
addressed to God. But the Recording Angel
coughed, said, “God has an online work-around,
so doesn’t take them like that any more.”
How email Joe to God, to bless or damn?
Cremation goes to Heaven… but, knowing Him,
souls just end up in limbo, marked as spam.

Another strange little poem; who knows where they come from, or why? Where they go is more knowable: to whoever is most likely to accept them! In this case, The Road Not Taken–a journal of formal poetry. Thank you for tolerating my morbid flippancy, Dr. Kathryn Jacobs!

I think we have all lost friends and family during the pandemic. The good news now is that vaccines are so widely available. We still have a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”, and the sooner those people come to their senses, the sooner everyone can focus on the other major issues: climate catastrophe and corrupt demagoguery. (But it’s still a beautiful world!)

“capper or beginning? (crematorium Zuerich/Schweiz)” by SphotoE is licensed under CC BY 2.0