Death has never made my acquaintance
in any recognizably personal way.
My grandfolks are all stiffs now
But I didn’t cry then and like as not won’t.
And we all know crying is the yardstick
for how much you cared about the recently putrid.
No hard feelings, ya’ll—it was fun anyway.

I think I’ve seen Death pass by in his Mustang
his icy touch fitting for a man of Important Business.
In his briefcase you’ll find a sundry lot of fixtures
for the end of his infamous scythe,
each one meant for a different occasion:
a putter for golf-meetings with God and Satan,
a torch for looking extra grim at night,
a corkscrew for suicide parties with his fans,
and a countdown clock for scaring the under-ripe.

In his own mind Death is a super-hero, if a skinny one.

Then, when the hour comes in its uncelebrated way,
Death’ll just shake us awake from the video game.
We’ll notice that things ain’t goulish but sharper;
we’ll laugh at ourselves for the cartoon pictures
of harp plucking, cloud floating, and chorusing
that we had imagined we’d find on the flip-side of life,
and we’ll groan at the Maker’s very poor taste
for having used the ending we writers like to avoid,
the it-was-all-a-dream deus ex machina.

I halfway expect a bearded old man
Standing next to my bed,
Green sheets exactly as I remember them
Eighty dream-years ago when this slumber took me,
my real bedroom returning to my memory
as I shake off all the silly nothings
(cats, books, careers, wives, meaning, space, time)
that seemed so damn important when I was asleep.

He’ll lean forward, slowly and solemnly,
As if to tell the Secret of the Universe,
And he’ll whisper, “Gotcha!”
Through his toothless grin
Just before the credits roll.

Yeah, what a little bastard.

Photo by Kenn W. Kiser