Three Poems Predicting My Death before Yours
I cannot always talk to you. There are so many barriers.
The hoovering, the cleaning, cooking the daily meals.
When we go to bed, you are tired, I’ve had too much to drink.
We know our routine answers off by heart. There’s never any time
for each other. House work, gymnastics, paying the bills,
even housekeeping on the computer: they all take time.
Time, time: so little of it left. I can feel death’s seeds
rooting in heart and chest. Premonitions: so little time.
Rummaging in the dusty memories that line my bookshelves, I rediscovered a sequence of love poems I wrote for Clare, 25 years ago, in 1991. This is the second in the sequence. A Golden Oldie, it grips today even more than it did back then. I am growing old. The insurance company’s statistics tell me that soon, all too soon, I will join those statistics and become another black number on a white page. According to those statistics, Clare will survive me, but we don’t know by how much.
How do we prepare ourselves for such things? Our society, a society that sees violent death every day on the road, on the street, on television, backs away from death. We don’t face it, not in the same way they do in Oaxaca, for example, where it is celebrated once a year on the Day of the Dead. Homes are lit up. The dead ones favorite food is prepared. Little altars are illuminated by candles. Photos appear. Do the dead return to their homes to join in the celebrations? Sometimes, I guess they do. Certainly the would be made welcome if they did.
Perhaps Francisco de Quevedo, the seventeenth-century Spanish poet who was the subject of my doctoral thesis, was right. “The day I was born, I took my first step on the road to death.” He writes too of “this death that I carry within me, that has walked beside me all my life.” “If death is a law, and not just a punishment,” he writes, “then we must accept it and obey its call.” I guess it’s easier, if you are a Stoic or a Neo-Stoic, to face up to such things.
I once asked my grandfather, a man who survived the trenches of the First World War, if he was worried about dying. He looked at me in silence for a long time. I was very young and we were sitting in the sunshine on the bench by the old Swansea Hospital where he went daily to gossip with his friends. “Roger,” he said. “We are all going to die. We will die if we worry about it. We will die if we don’t. So why worry?”
I certainly don’t want to go. I didn’t want to go twenty-five years ago and I really don’t want to go right now. I have decided to take my grandfather’s advice. I’m not going to worry and I am going to continue to enjoy myself for as long as possible because: “For there are many fine things to be heard and good things to be seen / before we go to Paradise, by way of Kensal Green.”