Life, death, transfiguration.
“It was to be a good death, a clean death, a loving death …”
1. October 11, 1970
I am in my first-grade
classroom in Lexington Park,
Maryland. The teacher
has made a space capsule
from a card table and blanket.
Inside are two children picked
to be astronauts, a boy
and a girl named Christa Flynn,
pretty and blonde like her four
sisters. This year her father
will die in a training flight.
Today I am jealous that she
was chosen, not me,
so she gets to hide in that
cramped dark space for as long
as she can bear it (pretending
to go to the moon). The real
astronauts who landed
on the moon when we were five
were once at test pilot school
like our fathers.
Three days a week I go
to swim team at the base
and when we drive through the gate
a man in uniform salutes
when she shows him
her officer’s wife I.D.
and the kids in the carpool
crane their necks
to see the sign that tells
how many were injured
and how many have died
new numbers are exciting.
2. Palliative Care
It was to be a good death, a clean death, a loving death.
Hospice came every week and you learned all about the nurse’s bariatric surgery
because you weren’t dying yet
and then suddenly you were.
At first there was to be no death at all
You would beat cancer the way people of faith
do, even when the doctors say there is no hope
prayer would find a way.
But then the pain came, and the morphine—
blessed relief, for a time,
skilled nurses on call,
this would be fine.
The arrangements were already made, the funeral
pre-paid, the ashes to go
to separate cemeteries:
half with your parents and brother in Florida
in the Methodist cemetery shaded with live oaks,
the rest with your second husband’s first wife,
awaiting his demise in a soulless expanse
of tasteful markers and manicured lawns
a way to show everlasting love.
Your daughters spent days with you in the death room
so there was much joy and singing and tears
the Christian folksongs unearthed—
the nurse said this would be a rich time
and it was but the death was fast coming
and not so clean after all because
when the organs break down
one cannot slip quietly into a good night.
So many pills to swallow when you can’t even
keep down a bit of oatmeal or the good broth
your daughters made you, one here all the way from
Colorado and with your grandson,
you’d worried about him but sent lots of prayers
just two years old with no father and you
want to let go into the loving arms of your
father and your mother and Jesus and grandmother
but it’s so hard, the body just won’t let go
and sometimes you see them and hold out your
arms to the light and people in the room are
beginning to talk about you as if you aren’t there
but you are
only you can’t make any sound
with your voice and it frustrates
so you retreat to your death rattle,
the place the morphine takes you.
You want to let go and go to Jesus
but this Earth holds you
so tightly, there is so much more to do,
it’s all a mistake, you weren’t supposed to die now
even though it’s fine to die, soon, just not now.
Finally your eldest daughter says goodbye,
I love you, it’s ok to go and the nurses say
it’s ok to go and your first husband said it was ok to go
he came your last good morning—love recalled.
Your second husband hasn’t come for days,
before that came only with his middle daughter you’ve tried so hard to love
he just couldn’t stand to see you die
he was supposed to die first, a heart attack
you did your best but you can’t hold on any longer—
3. Mother’s Day 2014
Here is lilac’s
Maple wings clutter the sky,
from doomed planes.
Oak catkins whirl down,
light bombs lathering the lawn
where violets watch
while lesser celandine, mocking,
with bright heart-shaped leaf.
shrouded in green.
Tulips beginning to fail,
their soft petals
into poppies, then oblivion
Ann Quinn’s poetry collection, Final Deployment, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. Her work can be found in Potomac Review, Little Patuxent Review, and Haibun Today, among others.
Jonathan Machen contributed a politically motivated painting, Unite with Love, Resist with Love, to Broad Street in 2017. His work is currently on display in the Boulder History Museum. He also edits Haikutimes.