ASH WEDNESDAY POEM
It wasn't invented yesterday, Death,
it casts a long shadow. I know
where we are going, partly
and it is to dust, ash, awful stuff.
Who hasn't been awake
and worried about our fragility?
My father, in his coffin, broke
any sense I'd had that life was good.
His stillness, in the midst
of things, was far too complete
to be much comfort. God promises
some form of return, but not bodily,
not after the dust has dissipated.
When we walk the streets marked
out as fools in our desperate hope
of life everlasting, we are
performing an act of instability.
We are throwing our living forward
into death, and by dying while alive
are making death and life a mixture
like the paste used to heal wounds.
The flimsy cross of coal on my skull
blows off in the wind, smudged
like newsprint. But it is a story
made of a paper that burns up
each year, and each year reappears,
to be burnt again. Seasonal, despair
turning like the sun to faith,
as flowers have to press again
to scatter the earth, to invade the light.
Our bodies broadcast our deaths,
deaths predicted at the moment
we unsheltered from the womb.
Death is a broken comb of honey,
its incomplete hive buzzing
with the sweetness of something else,
the further fields of stamen and pistil
awaiting fecundity. Death starts
like a starter's pistol a race
to the line where all that disintegrates
embodies the greatness of our birth:
we walk constantly dying upright
because we are possessed
of what cannot die, what ignites,
the match-head blue striking of soul.
poem by Todd Swift, 2014.