Monday, December 13, 2010

That Good Night

I am grateful for the readers' comments on "A Fine and Private Place." After all, death is, with love, the poet's most frequent subject. With death so often swept under the rug in decades past, perhaps it's refreshing for death now to be made public, as in the long dying of Elizabeth Edwards. She fought valiantly and when the time came, she yielded with dignity. We can only imagine her pain, her struggles with the side effects of medication, her fatigue. But we'll remember her aliveness in the face of death.

I thought of Mrs. Edwards especially in the light of Jane S's comment that we must rage, rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas urged his dying father. But eventually there might come a time when the dying person feels he or she has endured enough and prefers an end to the suffering. This was true of my mother after she had lived weeks in agony from a metasticized abdominal cancer. After she had achieved the escape she prayed for fervently, I wrote the following poem, which I chose to read last Friday night at the Cornelia Street Café:

How Sweet The Bye and Bye
               (For J.B.H.)

Once the pain preyed unrelenting
you could taste how bad
you wanted to go into that good night
you raged against the light
prayed for it to go out
for you no false heroics
just the stoic’s sort.

You could not taste at last
the bile rising to your palate
burned your taste buds out
as your huge tumor crushed gall
bladder and kidney and thrust down
your uterus till you could feel it fall
between your lips like a natural-
ly aborted fetus.

“‘There’s a land that is fairer than day’”
you sang me softly in the breath left you
“That’s where I want to be
where I won’t ever have to do
another goddamn thing I don’t want to . . .
‘I’ll be free in the sweet bye and bye.’”

Then you saw, being blind, the last dim light
your opalescent pupil could permit
and cunningly left behind your agony.


  1. especially loved the last two stanzas--use of "cunningly" is wonderful.

  2. You get right at the guts of what matters, George! Thank you.

  3. Beautiful words from a caring son.

  4. beautiful george. a work of art.

    sorry that i missed you at cornelia street. i had to take mom to the eye specialist for her cataract follow-up and getting her eye lens changed.


  5. How Wonderful George. I shared an experience much the same when my own Mom died 4 years ago. Now "Rage against the light" is a sort of anthem or mantra for me. Well done and thanks for sharing your innermost self with us..

  6. I hope I go the way my motherboard went Monday morning. One flash and then darkness. Now, I have a brand new computer and hardly remember what the old one looked like :)

  7. I let my mother go more than a decade ago now. Alzheimers stole her memory then her body. The night of her death I dreamed she was free as the girl she had regressed to - skipping in the clouds.
    Thank you for letting us grieve, George, but also for recognizing and accepting death. Rage is not always what is needed. We - the dying and those who survive the dying - need release.