I watched the body give up
its elastic grip. Its hungers dwindling
into sips of tepid water. The eyes,
so full of stories, looking beyond me.
How will I know death? I had asked.
How will I tell for sure? It was like
when I asked the midwife how I would know
labor and she laughed. You will know.
You will know. But it wasn’t as simple
as that for me, the body struggling
to free itself and now the soul.
The chest rises and stills for a beat, two,
three. Then suddenly inflates, rising
from a deep lake into lamplight.
Yet when it came, I did know. Some bodies
look young again, someone had told me.
Others as old as time can imagine.
All the air in the room had gone. The world
lay naked to ions of traveling starlight.
Even skin breathes, I had never realized.
Until now. No blood, just pale. The final
push as effortful as birth. The letting go
of flesh. Life never wholly mine.
Pain and what to name it. I did wonder
at the end about death. Death itself.
If I was dying. I put my hand
to my chest and felt the heaviness of loss,
the weight of a newborn.
by Joanne M. Clarkson, from Hospice House, MoonPath Press
Cover Art by Carolyn Clarkson (the poet’s daughter)