‘You can spend your whole life thinking of death’
Tonight I saw myself in the dark window as
the image of my father, whose life
was spent like this,
thinking of death, to the exclusion
of other sensual matters,
so in the end that life
was easy to give up, since
it contained nothing.
— From Mirror Image, by Louise Glück
You can spend your whole life thinking of death. Or soaring from it. My father was the opposite of Glück’s — steeped instead in the earthly, the decimal point, and the profit margin. Eight years into leukemia and he still had no time for death — no truck with it, as people used to say. He was a retired businessman still chairing company committees. He was a master gardener, devising ever new systems for labeling squash and trellising tomatoes. He was industrious, in the best sense. Frost might have said that his vocation and avocation had successfully united, as two eyes do in sight. Hospice was the roadblock. His own mortality was the real shock.
Hospice broke his heart.
This is the story I’m telling right now. I believe it to be true. Or might there have been another, different truth — some truth beyond a living person’s need to understand? I’d like to imagine a veiled waterway, hidden even from himself, that led him to a place beyond his conscious will and power. Could some internal stream have soothed the pain of his body’s betrayal? I’m guaranteed never to know. But I can still wish.
Can poetry reside in the recess of that mystery?
Image by Katia Sosnowiez