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

my mother

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

this year—

new numbers are exciting.


2. Palliative Care

January 2013


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

cloying thunder,

inescapable scent.

Maple wings clutter the sky,

pilots parachuting

from doomed planes.

Oak catkins whirl down,

light bombs lathering the lawn

where violets watch

while lesser celandine, mocking,


with bright heart-shaped leaf.

Daffodils already

shrouded in green.

Tulips beginning to fail,

their soft petals

opening helplessly

into poppies, then oblivion

or transfiguration.


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.

Jonathan Machen, Rocket Park playground in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Pen-and-ink with digitized color.