(Theme and variations)
by Conor Kelly
I shall die, César Vallejo wrote,
in Paris on a day of heavy showers,
on a day I already remember,
a Thursday, perhaps, and in the autumn.
He died in Paris, true; but in the spring—
Good Friday, April 15 1938.
As to whether or not it rained on those roads
he ceased to feel, alone, I cannot recall.
César Vallejo is dead (of a strange disease).
Everyone kept on hitting him for no good cause.
They hit him hard with a cane and hard,
as well, with a rope; his testament:
the body blows of life, the shoulder pain,
the solitude, incessant rain, the roads…
I shall die (after a brief illness) alone
in an empty class room on an upper floor,
8th period on a Wednesday afternoon,
having returned to take up work again,
two days before another mid term break.
I will have been correcting someone’s work,
(Must it be always the same errors every time?)
and listening to late Beethoven after class
when, like a sudden gust of wind that flings
a metal bin across an empty yard,
a sudden gust of passion or of pain
will fling me from my chair onto the tiles
beneath a blackboard where, in chalk, I’ll leave
some words on some set poet’s subtle words.
I shall die (peacefully at home) in bed,
surrounded by my loving family
solicitous to every last request,
drinking, at last, a glass of chilled champagne,
like Chekhov in a Raymond Carver tale,
and listening to Beethoven on CD
until, like the summer breeze that Monday night,
I’ll drift into another nether world.
Perhaps I’ll die andante and in tune.
Perhaps I’ll drift away, drunk on champagne.
Perhaps my wife, like Chekhov’s wife, will find,
“Beauty and peace and the grandeur of death.”
But who will pick the cork up from the floor?
I shall die (following a traffic accident)
early one Sunday morning, on a wet street
beneath a street light fading into dawn,
my blood seeping onto the leather trim
like oil seeping from the underside of the car
I drove too fast, perhaps, into a tree.
A housewife in her light pink dressing gown
will watch my eyelids close, my head relax.
She will have called an ambulance, the guards
and they, in turn, a fire brigade to cut
whatever’s left of what was once my life
from what was once a cherished black coupé.
The wreck will stay there for another day.
I shall die (suddenly) on the pavement
outside a large franchised department store
on a Saturday afternoon, perhaps,
and my last sight will be my own collapse
reflected in the plate glass window through which
a sightless, beach-dressed, female mannequin
will not observe a spasm on the wet ground—
there will have been a sudden summer shower—
as the body that transported me through life
will finally achieve its destiny.
A crowd may gather: the curious, the concerned
and those who wonder why a crowd has gathered.
Later, an ambulance will sweep me up
and tidy me, temporarily, away.
I shall die (in the loving and excellent care
of the Sisters of Mercy) after lunch
on Tuesday, in my bedside chair, not knowing
what or how or who, perhaps, I might be.
Years of dribbling and drooling like an old fool,
years of incompetence, incontinence,
years of unembarrassed eccentricity,
will end with a seizure and a sigh.
It will be many years after I will have
forgotten the music I once played at home,
a home no longer remembered despite
a photograph on the bedside locker:
a house, a cherry-blossom tree, a car
from which two children wave, happily.
I shall die (unexpectedly) abroad
in Paris on a heavy humid day,
a day I no longer clearly recall,
a Thursday, perhaps, in early autumn.
The cause will be some strange fatal disease
and the autopsy will take forever
before they release the body for burial
there or collection and cremation elsewhere.
The inside back page of the Irish Times
will carry my death notice for two days,
four centimeters long: surname, in bold capitals,
then date and place of death, forename, bereaved,
(regretted by) funeral arrangements.
House private. No flowers please. Donations to
Conor Kelly was born in 1952 and grew up in Dublin, Ireland, where he taught in a secondary school for over 30 years. After he retired from teaching in 2011, he moved to rural France where he now lives. His poetry and criticism have appeared in various Irish, British, and American publications, including The Southern Review (Louisiana), Poetry Review (London) and Poetry Ireland Review (Dublin). He has also had poems published in The Huffington Post and Rattle (Poet’s Respond) (USA), Snakeskin (England), The Honest Ulsterman (Northern Ireland), and All Floors (Ireland). He runs a twitter account dedicated to the short poem (@poemtoday) and a Tumblr blog (poem-today.tumblr.com) which prints a daily poem, classic or contemporary.
Image credit: victortsu on Flickr