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What might one write in a poem for Death?

An essay on the peace found in the grave,

a dietary plan addressed to worms,

or praise for the deceased, that one might drink

a toast to, lying quietly in the coffin,

features solemn as if just asleep?

Or should one see instead to one's own sleep

and, in that way, attempt to forestall death,

through healthy habits thus avoid the coffin,

through good eating cheat the waiting grave

and at the same time deprive food and drink

to nature's creatures, the honest lowly worms?

But yes, who of us sheds a tear for worms

that, even as we, must at times find sleep

and at times wake, must breathe and eat and drink,

and as we also end their days in death,

to stretch themselves in their own worm-sized graves,

although, unlike us, probably lacking coffins?

Is that the difference then, the expense of a coffin

that shows we're civilized, while lowly worms

go naked, naturally to their own graves,

and, while we like to speak of eternal sleep

and callings home, I wonder at worms' deaths

what lesser beings find in them food and drink.

But, ah, this is a wake and so we drink

and gather prayerfully around the coffin,

paying in that way respect to Death,

yet through embalming still seek to cheat worms

of what is their due, pretend still it's just sleep

that keeps the deceased lying in their graves.

And one more toast let's offer to the grave,

the yawning pit whose thirst defies mere drink,

whose future claim for us disturbs our sleep

as, all too soon, our beds will be the coffin,

flesh will be no more than food for worms,

and so ourselves be servants of fell Death.

This sleep is longest that is in the grave

and death for any is a bitter drink,

the coffin's treasure at last food for worms.

James Dorr's collections Strange Mistresses: Tales of Wonder and Romance and Darker Loves: Tales of Mystery and Regret are published by Dark Regions Press. Other work has appeared in journals ranging from Aboriginal SF and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine to Xenophilia and Yellow Bat Review as well as numerous anthologies.
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15 Aug 2022

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