588: Good Death

588: Good Death

588: Good Death


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

One of the greatest engines of poetry is repetition. Because it makes us feel like the poem is an incantation, a spell, something swirling into something larger, beyond the page, into the music of our blood.

In today’s tremendous poem, we see how repetition becomes the spine of grief. How grief holds you in its grip, requires you to remember everything, but also gives you a freedom you have never wished for.

Good Death
by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Of words placed in their best black clothes. Of that darkness full.
Of the laugh, forged of dust that spilled its gold light into the tomb.
Of the wreath carved upon the copper vault.
Of the ivory city — bones like trumpets — blowing you away from us
        in song.
Of the city again where you will be welcomed by vultures.
Of the road between the dates, a short slash. An usher in a gold hat.
Of the pronunciation of sorrow, always, in summer. 
Of the snake who suffered the story.
Of the afterlife & its downpour of ordinary rites.
Of rites I enact in my broken thoughts.
Of my fever waving its anguish until the match goes out in disbelief.
Of the nine stars bleeding mercy beneath the roof of God.
Of God, God, & God.
Of the peace & suffering my people have been promised. 
Of the clean, white clothes I gave the undertaker. 
		                 Here are the stockings, I said, not knowing
whether they would match her skin.
Of the poems I’ve been trying to write. Die, I say.
		                 Go elsewhere for songs.
Of the food & the appetite.
Of my father’s shoulders in a black suit.
Of downpour again.
Of the animals who charge me with horns
		                 when I offer my clay ribs.
Of her visitations.
Of the hot comb I cradled on my knees in the bathroom.
Of the brutal gospel of hair, untouched toothbrush, clothes
		                 in closets with sale tags.
Of dreams where my teeth scatter like maple leaves.
Of what I will never remember. 
Of the rain that makes my howls float like empty bottles of glass.
Of the dreams where my white clothes grow flames.
Of what I will remember remembering.
Of the neon-colored nail polish on her hand
		                 I held at her deathbed.
Of what I hated to ask the night & gods.
Of the knees that remember the orange mud before the grass grew
Of you, Reader, looking at my face here & reading 
		                 because we all want to know how to bear it.
Of the strange, caring question their voices poured like grace
	                         over my side where I was trying to leave. Get out of skin. 
Of it being over, again & again.
Of it beginning. They ask me was it a good death, was it
	     	                 a good death, was there peace for all of us. Why
		                 should I want peace instead of my mother? 
Of the mothers who have always known while holding children
		                 in their wombs — why wasn’t I told?
Now I walk into the sea with my jewel of anguish & shake those
	      human flowers
		                 from my new, bald skull.

"Good Death” published by W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. in SEEING THE BODY © 2020 by Rachel Eliza Griffiths. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.