March 10, 2010 § 1 Comment
I’ve been on the outskirts of people’s grief lately: serious illness, death. Perhaps because of that I dreamed of my friend Ann, who died of lung cancer 10 years ago: she’d gone back to a shady ex-boyfriend and was coming to stay with me (in a cramped house I lived in with my husband, sister, mother and others I don’t recall). Then it seemed she was only leaving her notebooks.
She did do that: leave many diaries, which her brother gave me because he couldn’t face reading them. When I sold my house in the country I went through them ruthlessly, throwing out ones that were mostly empty, or that contained only lists of all the things wrong with her, which she noted extensively elsewhere.
Her diaries were so much like mine that it made me feel hyper-real, as if her death had blended her into me. For the first (and only) time I understood viscerally the idea of eating one’s dead, taking in their qualities.
For this to mean something, there has to be a strong belief in the likeness of beings. I had had such a moment with her, right before she went into the hospital for good—a dinner during which we came as close as she could to speaking of her death. What she said was much less than what some people can say easily, but because it was so big for her, I felt the opening of the channel, her heart flowing into mine.
This is something I’ve felt—lucidly, consciously—only a few times, and the other partners have been lovers or animals. Because of this I miss her, and because her death was both slow and quick (3 months from diagnosis) and I was at an age when mortality is constantly, if softly, knocking, her death has become “the” death for me, the template.
The others, the first ones, were shock and awe.
Since I was old enough to understand the concept, I’ve been aware that the ground of existence (whether you think of it as the nature of consciousness, the consciousness of the divine, or the spilling-over noise of bacterial networks) is always very close to me, very much available. And yet I don’t get too close. I did when I was young and it was thrilling, like certain drugs. Then it got more serious and I was afraid.
All I know about what I’m afraid of is that death is at the heart of everything. The Buddhists are right about that. The enlightened being feels death shining as strongly as life. We are all dangerous bundles of energy. To feel oneself unmade by the process of dying is horrific; to get used to it ahead of time is either very wise or like trying to breathe underwater.
Some have done it. That doesn’t make me want to. I just feel like, I could. I can’t race motorcycles or give a speech, but cross a little into death’s territory and come back—yeah. I have what it takes. But you have to pay the toll, if you do that.
Eyes Fastened with Pins
How much death works,
No one knows what a long
Day he puts in. The little
Wife always alone
Ironing death’s laundry.
The beautiful daughters
Setting death’s supper table.
The neighbors playing
Pinochle in the backyard
Or just sitting on the steps
Drinking beer. Death,
Meanwhile, in a strange
Part of town looking for
Someone with a bad cough,
But the address is somehow wrong,
Even death can’t figure it out
Among all the locked doors …
And the rain beginning to fall.
Long windy night ahead.
Death with not even a newspaper
To cover his head, not even
A dime to call the one pining away,
Undressing slowly, sleepily,
And stretching naked
On death’s side of the bed.