Probably written in the early 1980s: Jean Whitfield 1941-1984 Reprinted from her one published (posthumously) collection: Moments with kind permission of Bakery Press.
I have wondered about dying
will it be a rock fall in the mine
will I crawl waist-high in slime
naked with a feeble lamp
carving at the walls, dirt in my nails
and will the earth say, no further?
Will it be too much richness?
the salmon bone lodged in my throat
the room spinning, a river flowing through it
a damask cloth, wine and boats rocking
the punt probing to the cool clear depth
I am now flat under, black, alone
the pole impaling while the picnic lasts
and will the river freeze me white
and will I slide face up and out of reach?
Will I know there are no more stars?
the moon will no longer ride on her back
above the amber spreading palm?
But the moon will ride, stars, clouds
I will be changed and part of it
grass creak through me into growing.
There will be no end to my river
sparkle or ice-fire, apple-flame.
Will I clench my fist or die
palms curled open like a baby
naked on the floor of the cell like the prisoner:
Haiti, Chile, Long Kesh, Uruguay, Siberia,
all in the cages of Inverness and with them
I shall fight death too.
We shall stubbornly live.
Whatever they have radiated us with
we shall resist the fall-out
of bullets, bombs, poisons, silent gases.
I shall sail with the fisherman hauling
the silver net, popping and dancing.
I shall swim with the dolphin
looping my back.
I shall walk with the worker
rain wetting the backs of my hands.
I shall fly with the redwing
searching a mild cloud
moisture beading my feathers.
The fox stood on the bridge
the proud dog-fox
sure and simple in his pride
motionless in the headlight
and the empty bridge
filled gradually with dusty leaves.
The morning gathered
out of grey air
blossoms heavy with birds
the water lay heavy
under the road
but we walked on
out of the night
knowing we were
last night’s ghosts.
Now I can only be separate
then I will join them all
they will not refuse me
even the soldier who sights us
down the barrel screwed into his eyes
even the general who makes
the irrelevant joke who calculates
and fingers his honourable medals.
Will dying set me free from these singular bones?
All our atoms mingle with rain on the blue leaves
clouds of dust along the blue ridge burned off sapphires
lie on the dust sheets to become moths’ wings
soft flat dust rubbed to nothing with a forefinger.
Each living thing clings to its own self and shape.
I shall reach out dying.
A jaguar will grow from me.