NaPoWriMo / NaPoREADMo — Day 9 — Touching

We do not touch our dead anymore.
I touched my dying mother.
I could not touch my dead 
mother, though I kissed them both.

I turned off that awful pumping machine 
that kept the air in the mattress that kept her 
as close to comfort as one can get 
when one is dying piece-by-piece.

The machine gave its halting rhythm 
to the slap-dash ritual of getting 
her home before it was too late
to get her as home as one can get.

I remember turning off the machine, 
pulling the first wracking sobs, and
welcoming that finality for her.

The machine is dead.
The motor has stopped. 
There is no more.

Now, we cry and drink.

We lost the depth from our bones
we tossed death from our homes.

We lost the power of the touch 
of that darkness-tempered acknowledgement 
of unknowns.

We need those worms in our souls
or we rot, un-composted. 

9 thoughts on “NaPoWriMo / NaPoREADMo — Day 9 — Touching

  1. JCC,

    This poem is very very good. It’s heart-wrenching and deeply personal. At the same time it touches the universal of human experience inside me.

    I am especially struck by the truth of this line:

    “We lost the depth from our bones
    we tossed death from our homes.”

    We’ve become strangers to death. We send our sick and elderly to be kept by strangers. We leave death to be managed by strangers. Is it any wonder that we have become strangers to each other, to ourselves and to life?

    Thanks for reading this to me. Thanks for opening your heart though your poetry and for not being a stranger. 🙂


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Having been with my mother at her home as she died, the last lines interest me especially. I tend to take things literally (terrible for poetry, but there you have it), so I’m thinking we have lost something by literally not experiencing death intimately and at home. So many pieces to that experience were compelling that I never looked at this angle. But yes, it’s a far less alienating way to be with death than it being with it in an institutional setting.
    The sound of that machine was torture, I’m sure, at the end. A relief to turn it off and look at the finality squarely in the eye, maybe.
    My mother’s death was a slow fade, including the period after the “real” dying. I needed to let her continue to fade. I turned the funeral home men away. 🙂 I said not yet, give me another hour or two. They were good about it. We chanted Kanzeon and rang bells quietly, allowed a little more time to pass, and then it was OK for them to take her.
    There are so many different ways to die.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ah, are you a practicing Buddhist?
      I am not formally, but my thinking and writing is much informed by that perspective. I have been a big fan of Stephen Batchelor’s work for many years, although I know he is quite controversial in traditional circles. Dogen Zenji blew my mind many years ago and still spins the top much of the time.

      This poem can be taken quite literally, I think. Especially those last lines, which I have almost excised numerous times–too preachy, maybe.

      Yes. WE have lost much by pushing these things from us. This is one function of poetry I think–helping us to hopefully re-connect with these things.

      My mom was home for one hour and forty-five minutes before she died. But it had been a long painful, frustrating slide for her leading up to that. It was painful to see her so barely alive that yes, I was ready for her to go, for it to be over. I know she was ready. Some of my siblings had a much harder time letting go. Funny, me being the youngest.
      But we were all able to be there. With her at the moment she passed. It was and still is a profound experience that I am still working through. Almost ten years now.

      Our worlds grow closer and closer.

      Thank you for sharing in this. I am….I don’t know what to say. Except thank you.


      • Not really practicing these days, but I studied with Bernie Glassman and lived that life for about 5 years (monastery practice). It was one of the most valuable experiences of my life. We used to study Dogen, who I agree, is mind blowing in the best way.
        (I understand about worrying about being too preachy, but those lines didn’t strike me that way at all)
        Not knowing what to say! A good thing, yes? Thanks…..

        Liked by 1 person

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