Once upon a time we died…

I am accused of
having a preoccupation
with death,
the dead,
the anticipation of dying
(which we call birth),

bereavement intrigues me,
hospice and palliative care
I consider bemusing,
even amusing at times;
death and what it means
and doesn’t mean
who it involves
(which is every single
last one of us,
no matter how much
we ignore it, which we do,
we all do),

but death waits for no man,
or woman,
or child apparently,
so before I could
invite it in for a drink,
a conversation,
it chose me,
when I was just a boy,
disguised at first,
but today bold and sociable,
yet never
on my terms,

and that’s how it all began
and that’s how it all will end,
and I’ll admit
the accusation has a ring
of truth to it.

Morbid, serious, and in between…

There’s an important difference between morbid and serious.

In an effort to seem serious it is easy (too easy, I confess) to hide behind sounding morbid which gives morbid a bad name.

Being morbid is more than sad and depressed – morbid is an art form, practiced by poets, enjoyed by readers, which can easily divide personalities. Seriousness is a conservative refusal to be influenced by happiness or sadness, while being morbid embraces a disturbing, sometimes unhealthy interest in death, discomfort or what the serious call abnormal. I’m fine with the abnormal, and most poets actually, often not so secretly, enjoy that abnormal we all try to avoid about being morbid.


During some casual dialogue a morbid friend said to a serious friend in the company of a happy friend (with me just there to be me): ‘All children are depressed.’

And that got us talking. My serious friend nodded in agreement (unhappy childhood maybe?), the typically happy friend politely disagreed (but she paused first, which for her happy-self indicated some uneasiness), and I immediately started to jot down ideas.

When I was a child,
my mother found me
sitting on the edge
of my own bed,
feet flat on the floor,
shoes untied,
I was bent over at the waist,
head in my hands,
crying softly
and she didn’t ask why.

When friends ask, “Is that you?” or “Is that how you really feel?!” I can honestly reply, ‘Well, that’s how hearing the words “All children are depressed” made me feel, and that’s poetry.’

Not all poetry is autobiographical. Most poets are cowards living off the grief of others, confusing the serious for the morbid in the manipulative ploy of trying to make others cry. It really doesn’t take much to make someone else cry: children’s hospitals, an infant’s casket, a parent’s death, loneliness (at night, in particular)… those are all the morbid ‘top hits’ of prompts.

I drive by a prompt every day – a children’s hospital:

Just up my street a bit,
far enough but too close
children are taken
for miracles in misery,
last tries before rites,
wheeled in and out
with charts longer
than their years
and time enough to be
cried over after another,
and another,
and another diagnosis
before the final one
that they accepted
long before their family;
it’s a place with a big
empty parking lot
for the few visitors,
where parents make
like a home, necessarily,
tell stories of wishes
others call prayers,
and the children read
Charlotte’s Web
with appreciation.

When a friend’s child died after a life-long illness (and life-long is just eight years), I wrote this for her… for me…

It never occurred to us
that you’d be so quickly gone,
so quickly stolen away, too soon,
too young, too sick to stay.

From that young Billy boy
all toothless grins, always bouncy,
never still, never quiet, until
asleep finally, until morning.

Mama’s baby boy, her
favorite, her only, her child
of tireless days, tireless plays,
tireless dreams of joy.

And now you’re gone,
gone too soon, gone to where
bouncy Billy’s go to be young,
to be true, to sleep until morning.

She didn’t ask me to write this; nobody asks someone to write about their child like this.

But it creates a place in between; that’s where poetry – this type of poetry – lives and dies and lives again – betwixt. I think its realm is childhood, and the fast, fleeting disconnect we either ignore and suppress or embrace and celebrate.

By the way, if you’ve read to the end you might enjoy learning more about a poetry publishing campaign – Poetry Doesn’t Publish Itself at http://www.gofundme.com/callahanpoetry