What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

From The Human Line (Copper Canyon Press, 2007). Copyright © 2007 by Ellen Bass. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.

I had no idea that the gate I would step through 
to finally enter this world 

would be the space my brother's body made. He was 
a little taller than me: a young man 

but grown, himself by then, 
done at twenty-eight, having folded every sheet, 

rinsed every glass he would ever rinse under the cold 
and running water. 

This is what you have been waiting for, he used to say to me. 
And I'd say, What? 

And he'd say, This—holding up my cheese and mustard sandwich. 
And I'd say, What? 

And he'd say, This, sort of looking around. 

From What the Living Do (W. W. Norton, 1997). Copyright © 1997 by Marie Howe. Used with the permission of the author.

Some deaths take                  the slow turn            in the light from dusk to night.

My father takes his               time                            is trying to befriend him.

When he goes                        with it                         he will go.

He will trust death                as a friend                 near the end of his life.

There were not many           late nights                  he did his drinking at home.

And worked one job             for 50 years                 he didn’t gamble or cheat.

Was home for dinner           every night                 he listened to us talk in silence.

Now death walks by             his side                        of the bed sinks, his body

Weighs the mattress            down                           the hall it breaks into a sprint.

I witness it encroach            step by step                he eases into lethargy.

Hair and skin looking so     thin                              was he always so thin?

A creaking sound walks       around the house     I hear the weight of delirium.

He can’t sleep with               the noise                     of him gasping echoes.

When he awakes                   he dreams                  his father yelling, Get Up.

Someone’s at the door         knocking.

Copyright © 2022 by Celeste Guzmán Mendoza. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 6, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.