Cliff Diving with the Dead

I sit with an old friend on the Big Island
in striking distance to the water’s spray
among flora that drapes its huge blooms
unselfconsciously next to our breakfast table,
and I listen while she tells me about one tragedy
after another. “Can you believe it?” she asks,
hovering dangerously over her coffee cake.
“Drowned. And so beautiful.” All her stories
end this way – incredulous at the loss of beauty.

I am rereading poems by a woman dead now
three years, the incessant magic of the lines,
the knowing she was going, the language opening
with the power of the orchid: feminine, with a penchant
for strong, indirect light. They possess an urgency
that I can’t get near because I have not yet accepted
my dying, because no one has yet proclaimed over me
the title of a disease. Every word runs headlong to the
edge, unconcerned how shallow the water is, hoping only
that someone will write about how the dappled sun
sparkled on the rocks below the day it hit the bottom.

The dead and the dying, tricksters the lot, play keep away with the truth,
ask, How far will you go for the phrase that opens the soul?
That breaks the body, flesh souring, dissolving from bone,
in its place light, in the light, words.

My friend has it all wrong. The beauty just piles up,
bones in a canyon riverbed, precarious towers
of geodes reflecting the sun, the laughing dead
pile on more while the living dance underneath,
try to balance it all. Don’t take yourselves so goddamn serious,
they call from the clouds, adding another shiny rock.

Nov. 28, 2013

One of 30 poems in 30 days

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