Tag Archives: death

Poem: ‘Ticking Away’

You have hopes. You don’t expect
that they’ll ever come to pass
but you drink, think and reflect
as you look into the glass…
And you wonder what will happen
while your life just ticks away:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of play.

Science’s prognostications,
things you’d pick up in a flash:
soon they’ll start rejuvenations
if you only had the cash…
Cash cuts those who’d live forever
from the rest as with a knife:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of life.

But you don’t like thoughts of dying
so you hope you’ve got a soul;
and though preachers are caught lying
Heaven seems attainable…
But there’s got to be a Heaven
or prayer’s just a waste of breath:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… towards death.

Though you think that you’re so clever,
you’ve got goals but not the How.
Play the lottery for ever
it must pay off – why not now?
But you never do the homework
so at question time you’re stuck:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… out of luck.

That affair you never had
with the person down the street
for you’re really not that bad
and besides, you rarely meet…
But it sits there like a present
that’s unopened on a shelf:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… end of self.

So there’s all the other options
for the things you’d like to do:
travel, study, home, adoptions,
building family anew,
but you’re aging while you’re thinking
and the chances go on by:
Tick, tick, tick, tick… till you die.

*****

On this funereal day I take happy morbid pleasure in remembering that we are all mortal. Let’s keep on ticking as long as we can! ‘Ticking Away’ was published in the most recent edition of David Stephenson’s ‘Pulsebeat Poetry Journal‘, a recent and welcome addition to the growing cadre of formal-friendly magazines. It’s a nonce form, shaped in the writing of it; the lines rhyming ABABCDD, and the metre being a rapid patter broken by the ticking in the last line of the stanza.

You could say it’s mostly written in incomplete trochaic tetrameter, the form of Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,

But I prefer to read it with the rapid beat of W.S. Gilbert’s

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

which, technically, you could read as iambic octosyllable

I am the very model of a modern Major-General
I’ve information vegetable, animal, and mineral

but not all of those stressed syllables have equal weight. Gilbert’s lyrics are patter, built on highly stressed, semi-stressed and unstressed syllables. English poetry is flexible and chaotic, and its analysis can be contradictory, because the poetry is a fusion of casual Anglo-Saxon verse which counts stresses but not syllables, and formal French verse which counts syllables but not stresses. This mirrors the creation of English itself which is a fusion of various Germanic and Romance languages… with a dash of Celtic grammar thrown in. (Where do you think the pointless auxiliary verb “do” comes from in the phrase “Where do you think”, rather than a more straightforward “Whence think you”? Answer: Celtic.) But the educated literati of the past few hundred years learned all their analysis of grammar and poetry from the French who in turn were drawing on the Greeks and Romans. And some of that thinking is irrelevant to Germanic and Celtic structures.

TLDR: Write what feels natural, enjoyable and memorable. Personally, I’m always glad to remember I don’t have to write everything in iambic pentameter…

Photo: “Self portrait – Ticking away” by MattysFlicks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Short poem: ‘Disappearance’

I’ve always been around, since before I can remember,
so it just would be so strange, if one day I should dismember,
and my body disappear, like a swallow in September…
Will there be no glowing coal? Of my life survive no ember?

*****

This short poem was published on a page of ‘Senior Moments’ in the current Lighten-Up Online. I like the rhythm (there’s a pause in the patter in the middle of each line) but the simile is bogus: unlike with swallow migration, dead people are unlikely to show up again the next spring…

Photo: “Swallows” by Marie Hale is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Irregular Sonnet: ‘Where Do They Go?’

Where do they go, those children asleep?
Do they roost, or do angels put them on shelves?
Or do they go home, to some place they keep
locked far away from us and themselves,
Or an alternate universe? In, out, up, down?
Into a not-place, past care and past fear?
Past love and past tired, past smile, yawn and frown
into subtracted space, full of not here?

And where do they go, the dead?
We say we can’t know where they go,
just that they’re gone. But the crow
says, There is more to know that you don’t know –
says, Better ask instead
where do we go, when dead?

*****

This almost-regular sonnet was originally published in Bewildering Stories (thanks Don Webb). I thought it might be nice to emphasise (after some of irreligious poems) that I am not an atheist (except in the eyes of the organisedly religious). I am a Militant Agnostic: “I don’t know, and neither do you.”

Photo: “Good sleeping children in the morning” by michibanban is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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.