Work out. Ten laps.
Chin ups. Look good.

Steam room. Dress warm.
Call home. Fresh air.

Eat right. Rest well.
Sweetheart. Safe sex.

Sore throat. Long flu.
Hard nodes. Beware.

Test blood. Count cells.
Reds thin. Whites low.

Dress warm. Eat well.
Short breath. Fatigue.

Night sweats. Dry cough.
Loose stools. Weight loss.

Get mad. Fight back.
Call home. Rest well.

Don’t cry. Take charge.
No sex. Eat right.

Call home. Talk slow.
Chin up. No air.

Arms wide. Nodes hard.
Cough dry. Hold on.

Mouth wide. Drink this.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

No air. Breathe in.
Breathe in. No air.

Black out. White rooms.
Head hot. Feet cold.

No work. Eat right.
CAT scan. Chin up.

Breathe in. Breathe out.
No air. No air.

Thin blood. Sore lungs.
Mouth dry. Mind gone.

Six months? Three weeks?
Can’t eat. No air.

Today? Tonight?
It waits. For me.

Sweet heart. Don’t stop.
Breathe in. Breathe out.

"Heartbeats" from Love's Instruments (Tia Chucha Press, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Melvin Dixon. Used with the permission of the Estate of Melvin Dixon.

Lo! Death has reared himself a throne
In a strange city lying alone
Far down within the dim West,
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best
Have gone to their eternal rest.
There shrines and palaces and towers
(Time-eaten towers and tremble not!)
Resemble nothing that is ours.
Around, by lifting winds forgot,
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.

No rays from the holy Heaven come down
On the long night-time of that town;
But light from out the lurid sea
Streams up the turrets silently—
Gleams up the pinnacles far and free—
Up domes—up spires—up kingly halls—
Up fanes—up Babylon-like walls—
Up shadowy long-forgotten bowers
Of sculptured ivy and stone flowers—
Up many and many a marvellous shrine
Whose wreathed friezes intertwine
The viol, the violet, and the vine.
Resignedly beneath the sky
The melancholy waters lie.
So blend the turrets and shadows there
That all seem pendulous in air,
While from a proud tower in the town
Death looks gigantically down.

There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye—
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass—
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea—
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene.

But lo, a stir is in the air!
The wave—there is a movement there!
As if the towers had thrust aside,
In slightly sinking, the dull tide—
As if their tops had feebly given
A void within the filmy Heaven.
The waves have now a redder glow—
The hours are breathing faint and low—
And when, amid no earthly moans,
Down, down that town shall settle hence,
Hell, rising from a thousand thrones,
Shall do it reverence.

This poem is in the public domain. 

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

From Collected Poems of Stevie Smith by Stevie Smith, published by New Directions Publishing Corp. Copyright © 1972 by Stevie Smith. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me
The Carriage held but just Ourselves 
And Immortality.

We slowly droveHe knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recessin the Ring
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain
We passed the Setting Sun

Or ratherHe passed us
The Dews drew quivering and chill
For only Gossamer, my Gown
My Tippetonly Tulle

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground
The Roof was scarcely visible
The Cornicein the Ground

Since then’tis Centuriesand yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity

Poetry used by permission of the publishers and the Trustees of Amherst College from The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Ralph W. Franklin ed., Cambridge, Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Copyright © 1998 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Copyright © 1951, 1955, 1979, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.

Almost December.   Indifferent 
to seasons     the marigolds
persist. I am surprised by their pluck
and lack of propriety
their ability to ignore 
the inappropriate: 
a rusted leaking window box
a shaky fire escape
leading to a cemented street
below. They do not mourn
that all good things must 
come to an end     and accept 
that end as fate or destiny. 
Instead      without struggle 
or assessment of soil
moisture    heat     air    they continue
blooming      in chilling winter light
exactly as they did all summer. 

 

"Winter Light" from Her Birth and Later Years: New and Collected Poems1971-2021 © 2022 by Irena Klepfisz. Published by Wesleyan University Press. Used by permission.

after the Persian of Mehdi Hamidi Shirazi

They say when the time comes for a swan to die,
it goes where other swans have gone to die.

They say as the last night begins to fall,
it trails behind the setting sun to die.

And it sings ghazals, as though it wished between
the pages of its own divan to die.

They say a swan loves only once and will
return to where its love was won to die.

Making its deathbed where it first made love,
it can forget it has withdrawn to die.

Are these tales true? In the desert, where I live,
no swan has come, not a single one, to die.

But then they say that swans return to water,
in whose embrace life was begun, to die.

Open your arms, my dear, and slake my thirst:
the time has come for one more swan to die.

Excerpted from The Palace of Forty Pillars by Armen Davoudian. Published with permission from Tin House. Copyright © 2024 by Armen Davoudian. All Rights Reserved.

Life
For him
Must be
The shivering of
A great drum
Beaten with swift sticks
Then at the closing hour
The lights go out
And there is no music at all
And death becomes
An empty cabaret
And eternity an unblown saxophone
And yesterday
A glass of gin
Drunk long
Ago

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on February 3, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.

U.S. Navy Nurse, the Philippines, 1942

I looked around the scene, and saw the men,
some dead, some twisting on the tables, smell
of antiseptic, smell of blood, and then
I looked outside where more waited. I tell
you I knew nothing of the Philippines,
of mangoes, houses on stilts, nipa huts, 
the smell of copra in the air, gangrene
and amputations, lice, the surgeon’s cuts
I had to sew back up, of carabao,
the glisten of the small steel instruments
catching the glint of lantern light, red pile
of gauze. But still I never cried
until one day when (I did not see how)
my hand was grabbed as I passed by, intent,
by a young man who gave me half a smile
and held me with his hands and eyes—then died.
 

From Tongue of War: WWII Poems (BKMK Press, 2009) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2009 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.  

 

    Someone had spread an elaborate rumor about me, that I was
in possession of an extraterrestrial being, and I thought I knew who
it was. It was Roger Lawson. Roger was a practical joker of the
worst sort, and up till now I had not been one of his victims, so
I kind of knew my time had come. People parked in front of my
house for hours and took pictures. I had to draw all my blinds
and only went out when I had to. Then there was a barrage of
questions. “What does he look like?” “What do you feed him?” “How
did you capture him?” And I simple denied the presence of an
extraterrestrial in my house. And, of course, this excited them
all the more. The press showed up and started creeping around
my yard. It got to be very irritating. More and more came and
parked up and down the street. Roger was working overtime
on this one. I had to do something. Finally, I made an announcement.
I said, “The little fellow died peacefully in his sleep at 11:02
last night.” “Let us see the body,” they clamored. “He went up
in smoke instantly,” I said. “I don’t believe you,” one of them
said. “There is no body in the house or I would have buried it
myself,” I said. About half of them got in their cars and drove
off. The rest of them kept their vigil, but more solemnly now.
I went out and bought some groceries. When I came back about an
hour later another half of them had gone. When I went into the kitchen
I nearly dropped the groceries. There was a nearly transparent
fellow with large pink eyes standing about three feet tall. “Why
did you tell them I was dead? That was a lie,” he said. “You
speak English,” I said. “I listen to the radio. It wasn’t very
hard to learn. Also we have television. We get all your channels.
I like cowboys, especially John Ford movies. They’re the best,”
he said. “What am I going to do with you?” I said. “Take me
to meet a real cowboy. That would make me happy,” he said. “I
 don’t know any real cowboys, but maybe we could find one. But
people will go crazy if they see you. We’d have press following
us everywhere. It would be the story of a century,” I said.
“I can be invisible. It’s not hard for me to do,” he said.
“I’ll think about it. Wyoming or Montana would be our best bet, but
they’re a long way from here,” I said. “Please, I won’t cause
you any trouble,” he said. “It would take some planning,” I said.
I put the groceries down and started putting them away. I tried
not to think of the cosmic meaning of all this. Instead, I
treated him like a smart little kid. “Do you have any sarsaparilla?”
he said. “No, but I have some orange juice. It’s good for you,”
I said. He drank it and made a face. “I’m going to get the maps
out,” I said. “We’ll see how we could get there.” When I came
back he was dancing on the kitchen table, a sort of ballet, but
very sad. “I have the maps,” I said. “We won’t need them. I just
received word. I’m going to die tonight. It’s really a joyous
occasion, and I hope you’ll help me celebrate by watching The
Magnificent Seven,” he said. I stood there with the maps in my
hand. I felt an unbearable sadness come over me. “Why must
you die?” I said. “Father decides these things. It is probably
my reward for coming here safely and meeting you,” he said. “But
I was going to take you to meet a real cowboy,” I said. “Let’s
pretend you are my cowboy,” he said.

“The Cowboy,” from The Ghost Soldiers, published by Ecco, 2008. Copyright © 2008 by James Tate. Reprinted with permission.