Poetry and beauty in death and dying

Today is about death and dying, but it’s not the grime and gritty … it’s about the richness and satisfaction of the end of things.

Harvests are where you find poetry. Not many poems about hoeing weeds or pruning tomato plants.

So, some really divergent thoughts and images about the end of things.

There is a stump I fell in love with in the woods near the home I built on Wessel Road. She found me one day as I walked through thick woods on the edge of some swampy grounds.

They tripped and pulled at me, slowing me as if to say “stop, see what is here,” and so I did, lifted my gaze from the forest floor from where I had been watching my feet to avoid tripping. There she was, right in front me, where I might have missed her, trudging straight forward, my eyes watching carefully and seeing nothing.

She must have been magnificent in her final growth before the fire took her and her companions decades before. She looked to be still five feet around at her base and 10 to 12 feet tall, black and forbidding.

I could go no further. My feet were wedged between two fallen cedars, my coat caught by some thorny growth. I was held in place. I was being asked to stay there, to be there with this blackness.

My breath came with difficulty. It seemed like a holy moment. I didn’t know why, just that it was so.

I stood there for awhile. I’m not sure how long. Then, finally, it seemed to let me go. I freed my feet, my coat, and moved closer to this darkness which loomed several feet before me. Simply asking for my time, my attention.

As I moved closer to her, that darkness above me seemed to move around me. I touched it with both hands, it was that wide. I turned my back and settled into it. It held me in its arms, swallowed me.

I found sitting in that throne to be fitting for a forest royalty. The seat was soft, pillowed with decaying wood and moss, the arms festooned with mushrooms and toadstools. The odor was profound. I exulted in a richness I found exhilarating as I sat there, wrapped in the dying of the woods. I became one with the death, with the exhaustion of the last breathing of that huge creature. It gave up all of its many years of living in its slow death.

Perhaps all of that above explains why I find death and dying more satisfying.

The air in the fall tells you to find that thick quilt you love to cozy in. The trees are spangled with multiple colors. That’s more satisfying to me than the soft green haze of spring leaves. Even, and finally, the skeletal empty branches, reaching, pleading against the steel gray autumn sky.

One more paean to death and dying, to the giving over that occurs at the end of things.

It happened early morning on the farm. I mean early. Still dark. I’ll set it in winter, though I experienced it year-round.

Waking in the cold and breaking the ice in the basin next to the bed. Get enough water to rub my face awake and stir my hair in some rebalance of order. Dress. Long johns and wool socks. Five-buckle boots. Hat and mittens.

Trudging down the path to the barn, the air biting my nose. Into the barn and then it hits. Comfort, order. There’s the hay. Hay, dead grass but a wealth in winter that mixes with the rich odor of cattle and horses, their sweat and breath of their bodies, and the heavy scent of their manure. I settle next to the first cow with stool and pail and water to wash her teats. I lean my forehead into her warm flank and pull, and the first warm stream splashes into the pail.

And I felt like I could just disappear into that warm body

and it was somehow the same feeling

of blackness

of disappearing

of safety

and comfort

Keith Titus is an author and a former chairman of the Alpena County Democratic Party.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today