We are born to die. Not that death is the goal, just that we are not meant to live indefinitely. Generally, most of us, want to stay here in this thing we experience as life, in this consciousness, this earth walk.
I’ve heard some folks say they want to live forever. But we have an expiration date. Like flowers and vegetables in a garden. Except, we live longer than a rose, longer than a tomato. Though some don’t make it past infancy, have a shorter lifespan than a flower or a berry. My cousin lost his firstborn to “crib death,” sudden infant death syndrome. And my sister lost her baby before it was born–the placenta, apparently, detached from her womb. These are horrible experiences for a parent. My cousin, forty years later, still feels the horror of finding his lifeless infant in its crib. My sister was beside herself, and the doctor told her that sometimes God knows there’s something wrong with the infant, so he spares it from suffering by taking it before it can be born. She accepted that. I’m glad for her, because it helped relieve some her grief. Poor thing. (I would’ve asked why does God pick and choose. But that’s me, and that’s another subject.)
I don’t know about heaven and hell. Except what I experience here on this earth. I don’t know about reincarnation. Though, I don’t disregard it. I just don’t know. The energy, or life force, the spirit, or what some call “the soul,” leaves the body, or just goes out, like a light, poof! and the body disintegrates. Only the bones remain. That’s all I know for sure.
When people die very old, which to me is past 85, even if it makes me sad, I generally take it in stride. “They had a good run,” I might say. But not everyone gets to grow old. That’s why I think getting old is a gift. In my book, it’s a blessing.
When John, a family friend, died of cancer ten years ago, I was devastated.
He was vibrant, healthy, smiling, joking, singing, snapping pictures. He had bought himself a camera and started taking snapshots of everything and everyone. Family and friends nicknamed him Paparazzi. Then, out of the blue, cancer. Four months later, gone. He was 44. I was stunned. Talk about feeling helpless.
The professor/poet with stomach cancer passed away a couple weeks ago. He was much loved in this community, where I now live, and where he once lived, and where his heart seemed to remain. He was 61. He died less than a month after his cancer diagnosis. Man, 61 is still too soon to go. Too soon. But Death determines when it’s time, and she hands us our Pink Slip. Ready or not.
I don’t want to fear dying. I do. But I don’t want to.
I once heard a (mediocre) poet say she didn’t agree with Dylan Thomas’s Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, and she read her sentimental poem sentimentally about going out “gently.” It just struck me as hilarious, and a cynical, “Hahaha!” jumped out of my mouth. I was glad to be sitting toward the back of the room, because I really didn’t mean to be rude. I quickly put my hand over my mouth, and said, “Oops.” The (former) friend I was with shot me a mad dog look. I don’t think I’ll “rage against the dying of the light.” But going out gently hardly seems right. I hope to at least have courage.
A.D. Winans just turned 80. He’s still writing. Sometimes he sends out new poems to an email list, and I’m glad I get to see them. In fact, he sent one last night. It’s called Dream Poem. “Your smile hovers over me like/a hummingbird,” he writes. It sounds rather like a love poem. But it also expresses anxiety, “nightmares dark as eyebrows/do battle with the ghost eaters of night.” I know he struggles with insomnia. He had some wild days in his youth, which he’s written about. He drank with Bukowski, and he used to drink at the same bar as Richard Brautigan, my two most favorite writers. I recently re-watched the documentary, Bukowski: Born into This, and I saw Winans in it, a figure there in the background. I’ve watched this documentary so many times, and every time wondered who that man was (is), who seems to be a close acquaintance or friend. Now I know. What’s interesting to me is that when I watched this film, I wondered about this man in this particular scene, and I never would’ve guessed in a million years that one day I’d meet him, that he and I would both be invited to read at the same reading. Of all the poets I’ve ever met, Winans is the one that means most to me. I love his poetry. Love it so much. To me, he’s the real deal. (As opposed to pretentious academics, or mediocre MFA’ers.) A natural poet, like Bukowski. He has his own style and voice, though. Naturally.
Winans doesn’t seem old to me. But it’s all relative, though, isn’t it? When you’re twenty, 30 is old, 60 is super old. Then, if you’re lucky, you turn 50, and you realize you don’t feel old. In your mind, you are the same as always. When I see myself in the mirror, that’s when I remember I’m no longer young. I might say, “Oh, yeah. Shit.” Because no one likes to age, have their hair gray, thin out, and their skin wrinkle. But I’m really ok with it, at the end of the day, because I’m alive, and in fair health, and I have poetry to write, and read, and hear. For me, living is an art. I haven’t particularly done it exceptionally well, like I once did drinking, and despairing, and self-hatred, and self-destruction. But I’ve gotten better at it, and I love it.