Let that be left, which leaves itself.

Death does not follow on my heels like a haggard dog
but dances in my flesh: my own skeleton
waiting for my skin to peel like old wallpaper.
Decay is the beginning of an endless present.

I am a rattle-boned woman pillowed by fat,
a tissue-wrapped trinket, boxed so it won’t make noise.
My heart, like the wildly pounding sea,
is a metronome measuring brevity.

I rest my head on my own skull at night
and sleep not an inch from my death
as a scorpion lives with its sting.

I am curious about Death.
I tried to peek at him as a Japanese girl of high birth
might have glanced at her future husband
from behind a painted screen.

It’s a joke:
The Sun god steers a chariot,
the Moon god has a boat;
Wind sails the clouds,
and Death rides the dust mote.

Yet to Death the moon is paper,
stars no more than scattered salt—
and I a moth with singed eyes
blindly courting light.

I’m a burl in the scrim of the universe.
Death is a pair of scissors intending to cut holes.

Death studies me as a gypsy studies tea leaves.
He whispers, Don’t suffer through life.
Wear it like a comfortable garment.
Take it off. Let it drop!

This means he wants my lips.

When I die, I will shout at my heart,
Lonely bird, fly up from your tree of bones!

I will shout at Death,
Have me! It will be like eating a cracker.

A congress of ravens will pick my remains
clean as silver needles.
My ashes will be pinned on some lake’s chest,
fleeting medals of glory.
The wind—that flagellant who, out of spite,
keeps a whip next to his bed—will take the rest.

The sun watches with a dry fish eye.
The sun is a riddle; it taunts the mind,
then disappears untimely—its own elusive answer.

My bones whisper, You can only die
if you measure the world by day and night.
Look past the sun for freedom from death.
Ponder the rain.

Published in River of Earth and Sky: Poems for the 21st Century, edited by Diane Frank

Painting:  Sonja Rosing

Painting: Sonja Rosing