No matter the size nor influence, the dearly departed.
Some are cat fodder,
some are swatted,
some you find on the top shelf, dust to dust,
in temple tealight cribs,
perfectly preserved if I wasn’t looking
for that one particular book.
No matter the size nor influence, the dearly departed.
Some are cat fodder,
some are swatted,
some you find on the top shelf, dust to dust,
in temple tealight cribs,
perfectly preserved if I wasn’t looking
for that one particular book.
Revisiting a place of childhood, you might find things are different. Of course, the council might have moved that shopping mall, the botanists might no longer grow their gardens. That tree you used to climb might have fallen down. But in some cases, the places where we grew up remain the same, and it’s only our returning perception that has changed. Gordon Parks paints this perfectly.
The poem begins with Parks’ return. It has been ‘many snows’ since he has been home. Years have passed. He is now an adult and sees things differently. The passing of time has ‘whittled down’ the things he remembers. He explains to us that in the eyes of a child, things appeared in bigger proportions, places were inflated by imagination.
For example, the ‘great mountains’ he saw as a child are now, in his adulthood, ‘mere hills.’ Similarly, the ‘raging rivers’ have become ‘gentle streams.’ The ‘wide road’ thought to have lead to great places like ‘China or Kansas City / Calcutta’ has ‘withered to a crooked path of dust.’
The point of this poem, however, is what doesn’t change, and that is how Parks views his father. At the end of this piece, Parks describes the burial of his father. Cleverly, he illustrates a picture for us, naming him ‘the giant’ and how he ‘remained the same’ since childhood. It takes ‘A hundred strong men strain[ing]’ to carry ‘him to his grave’.
The journey of childhood through to adulthood has been expertly compressed into eleven lines. Park portrays strong images and comparisons that detail our developments growing up. It’s brilliantly done, telling a story that spans years in a reminiscent voice with language that will be sure to linger.
Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it’s relatable, it’s heartbreaking, and it is a summary of growing up, something we all go through. All of us have loved someone and this poem reminds us that the way we see them never changes, not with age, not in death.
I do not own the rights to publish this poem but if you’re looking for somewhere to read it, here’s a quick Google search for you!
Looking for more poetry analysis?
Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Nesbit Likes: Visiting Hour by Steward Conn
You broke the ice with a hammer.
I watched the goldfish appear,
blunt-nosed and delicately clear.
Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year Old by Fleur Adcock
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.
Any questions? Pop an email to email@example.com
It takes a special kind of talent to write humour into poetry. There’s the obvious limerick method, which can still produce a chuckle (even if we have heard most of them!), but we all know when the punchline rolls in. The last line delivers, you see it coming and that’s about it. Humour, arguably, works best when it’s not expected and whilst it seems easy to throw something random into the mix to spice up the writing, it takes skill to make it relevant and clever.
Today’s feature, To Be Opened After My Passing, does humour right. It takes you by surprise: it delivers when you least expect it. Of course, it’s not all about whether you laugh or not but also whether you can relate to the poem. We’ve all doubted ourselves at some point, and most of us have felt insecure about something we’ve done, or something about ourselves. This piece details our everyday concerns we can all understand in a light manner we can all laugh with.
William Godbey kindly let us share his poem with our followers and it’s brilliant. It tells a story in a clear conversational style and tackles the theme of death in a fresh perspective. It’s not over the top nor too subtle in its tone and voice, and the progression, from the doctor declaring the death to being displayed in a glass cabinet for all to see, really cements how this person carried insecurity into the after life.
To Be Opened After My Passing
To the lead doctor
who will declare me deceased.
Please keep this in mind:
I keep mints in my pocket,
pop one in if my mouth smells.
To the mortician
who has to examine me.
I want you to know
I thought my Chinese tattoo
meant, “brave.” Turns out it meant, “toad.”
To the pallbearers
who must carry my coffin.
Don’t look inside it.
My tie might not match my suit.
I would never live that down.
when you dig up my body.
I’d just like to say,
if my bones seem heavy, it’s
not me. The grave adds ten pounds.
To the janitor
who will clean my display case.
Some words of advice:
Dying is a big mistake.
Everybody judges you!
For more brilliant poetry we’ve featured, please explore our Gibley Finds page.
Life in Season – Winter is the final part of a four part series. Please click here for part one, here for part two and here for part three. Thank you so much to anyone who made it this far. We hope you enjoy it!
It was an earliest memory of yours, siphoning through the fine grass and trying to find a four-leafed clover. Father knelt with you, brushing his fingers between the narrow leaves, scanning the ground on his hands and knees. The Smith Woods, neighbouring the turf, stood tall, lovely, dark and deep. Together, you trekked into the heart of the woodland, as far from the buildings and factories as you could get. You washed your feet in the cool streams and soaked in the tranquility and silence. That’s when Father told you about nature. He described it as everything and anything. If it was green and growing, that’s nature. The river runs and the rain falls, that’s nature. The sun shines and the moon glows, that’s nature. “The seed of the Romantics,” he said, “From the farthest of stars to us, right here, on Earth.”
Billy flicked his cigarette into the dirt. He pulled another out of his pocket, offered you one, but you declined. “It’s not all I thought it would be,” he said. “I shouldn’t have left. There’s nothing to it. You work, you get paid. You work, you get paid. Just the same thing, over and over, and then you die. That’s not a life. I wanna travel, you know? Tour the world. Hike some mountains and shit, all of that. I could – I could go and meet a monk, and then he could teach me his monk ways. Then, I could shave my head and presto – I’d be a monk!” Billy laughed to himself, hard and long, while you could only muster a small smile. It was different, everything was, and it was only then you realised. The Towdown Hills weren’t rolling greens, but mud and marsh, speckled with tree stubs. The Smith Woods were gone, every bush and every branch, levelled out and flattened with concrete for the retail parking lot. Billy Ross, the spice of life, was telling his jokes, telling his stories, but you couldn’t relate to it. His flaming ambition never went out while yours was extinguished long ago. Life was fleeting, you thought, and you lost it to the regular life, to the American dream. You hid your ring from Billy, afraid to show you had subscribed to the ordinary. You wanted something new, you wanted what he had: a lust for adventure. Billy was the ticket. “Let’s drink tonight,” he said, “And then let’s go. Come with me.”
At home, Alice was sat by the window. She was reading During Wind and Rain by Thomas Hardy, and she read it to you when you entered the room. “It’s amazing, isn’t it? It’s so sad but it’s so honest, it’s so true. The spring is fresh, but it must end. The autumn cleanses, but decays. The summer flourishes life, but the winter takes it away. Change is natural.”
Now, I’ve made mistakes in my life, more than I can count on my fingers, on my toes. But it’s all been in an attempt to follow the three most important things in life: love your family, love your friends, forgive yourself. I loved my Father, for all he taught me. I loved my Mother, for her strength. I loved my wife, for her person. Finally, although it took some time, I have forgiven myself for my mistakes.
One mistake I made was listening to my ego back then. I can’t forgive myself for the choices I made that day, so I don’t want to be associated with that person I used to be. What I did was unforgivable. Because of it, I’ve disconnected myself from the past, from that identity. That wasn’t me who rebelled, that wasn’t my anger. That’s not who I am now, instead, that was you. You, in your arrogance, blinded by a life of chaos and anarchy, ignored the words of your dear wife. She asked you not to leave, she pleaded you not to drink, she begged you not to rekindle that old fire but you did it anyway. Something very unnatural stirred, and it changed you. You packed your things and you left. That was the last time you saw Alice Meadows.
You met Billy in the concrete plains of the Smith Wood mall parking lot. You traded swigs from the bourbon bottle as you planned your trip, which countries to go to, which landmarks to see. It had been two years since your last drink, and breaking the seal was a new wave to the beach. Billy threw the empty bottle into the air, and it came crashing down onto a Cadillac. You both laughed and escaped the scene. “I’m hungry for a fight,” he said. You knew just the place.
You recognised every person sat inside the bar, each with the same sullen faces sipping in the smokey haze. A whiskey for you, tequila for Billy. The men stared at him, nosing his studded jacket, his sleeve tattoos, his mohawk mane that nearly brushed the ceiling. The quiet murmurs surrounded you. A quip from the man at the jukebox, which played Frank Sinatra, sparked that flame inside. “You look like a fucking peacock.” The bar laughed, and Billy downed his tequila.
You remembered The Masque of Anarchy. The strength of the words resonated with the alcohol in your blood. It was your calling, why Father had brought it for you. It’s for the pride, it’s for the fight, it’s for the lion inside you. You turned and slugged the man, flooring him instantly, and Billy smashed the glass onto his head. His friends bolted towards you but in two swift hits they were downed as well. In a second, the room erupted, the entire bar rose from their seats, threw down their drinks and threw out their fists, into a barbaric brawl of balding men. Chairs were thrown and broken over backs, the snooker balls were lobbed and smashed the windows, and in the heat, you smacked a cue across a man’s head. His face hit the bar, and then bounced on the wood floor. He cupped his mouth with his hand, trying to catch the teeth that protruded out, crooked and broken, the blood spouting between his fingers. You regretted that in an instant, and knelt to help him.
A thrown eight ball hit the back of your head and you fell, landing onto the broken glass, imbedding itself into your skin. You screamed in pain through dizzy vision, and yelled out as a stool was broken across your legs. You tried to stand but couldn’t feel anything below the waist, your legs bent and battered. Billy was still standing, blocking punches, twisting arms, his feet danced between the fallen drunks who writhed in pain.
One man held his neck and pinned him back against the wall. Billy wrangled against his hold, kicking his legs, pulling at his arm. Unable to free himself, he withdrew a knife from his boot and swung it towards him. The man turned his body to the side, throwing Billy hard onto the floor. He wrenched the blade from his hand and drove it deep into his chest. He bolted for the door, leaving Billy on the ground, gasping. The jukebox began That’s Life, and the sirens began to fill the air. You watched Billy from across the room. His hand, wrapped around the knife, released and fell by his side. His mouth agape, his chest deflating, you watched him take his last breath. The life escaped his eyes. Lost in colour. Slowly fading. Lights out.
When you’re alone, it’s hard to believe in love. Whilst it married your neighbours, Mr and Mrs Bran, you had to listen to their arguments every night, which dampened your hopes that it could ever happen to you. The slamming fists, the shattering plates. You knew it was expressed in poetry, in literature, but this never convinced you when the words refused to move your mind, soaked in alcohol and clogged in smoke.
You spent your time at the bar. You drank next to the old men, those who ran the gas stations, the bakeries, the water sewage systems and the polling stations. The fights were a regular thing. Alcohol rings like a wrestling bell in these people and within an hour, you were between two or three men, who were flexing their muscles and throwing curses. You were never first to throw a punch, but when they knocked you off your stool, you fought back. At least once a week, you left the bar nursing your knuckles, with blood on your shirt.
One night, on your way home, you saw two men following a girl. Her steps became rapid as theirs became strides, like vicious, hunting hyenas. Before they wrangled her purse from her hands, you pulled them back. Two blows to the head, one to the gut and a kick to the groin, and they bailed, scampering off into the dark on limping legs. “Thank you,” she said. It was then you were reunited with Alice Meadows and it was then, as you helped her up from the ground, that you found your friend.
She worked in the library, stacking shelves and serving customers. As you sat on the grass of Newland Park together, drinking strawberry milkshakes, she told you how she loved to be among the books. When it was quiet, she’d dive between the aisles, scoop the best stories into her arms and indulge from behind her desk. It was her little world she could escape into.
It was then she thanked you again for saving her that other night. She placed her hand on yours. You were happy to have saved the girl, but you never guessed she would save you.
She took you home one day, and she fed you. She watched television with you, she drank coffee with you. She got you outside, she got you in clean clothes, she got you in clean habits, she got you running on weekends, she helped your posture, she held your head high, she made you laugh, she brightened your mood, she strengthened your spirit, and most importantly, she understood you. She read you like a book when you opened up to her and knew exactly what you needed. She was there for you.
One day, whilst helping you clean your room, she lifted your mattress and found beneath two hidden relics of your past. As she held your Playboys in one hand, your face went red. “You’re still a boy,” she laughed. She picked up The Masque of Anarchy, analysed the cover and began to flick through the pages. You explained to her how your Father gave it to you, and how he explained the meaning behind it when you were confused. You told her that he called you a lion. “You are a lion,” she said, and for the first time, she kissed you.
Before Alice, your life was at a minuetto pace. Tiny steps of bad habits. You thought your life was like stagnant writing. Repetitive stanzas your days, repeating lines your hours, and nights were rounded off with the rhyming couplets of alcohol and tobacco. You were anchored with depression and you had lost the will to live. You felt as if that boulder inside of you was locked in place, unable to move or grow, victim to the erosion of despair. But when Alice pressed her lips against yours, that feeling inside of you dissolved. You shook off the chains like dew and embraced her warmth, her kindness, her love. This was life in season.
You spent your days together. You took walks in the park, you shopped together, you went to the cinema, and you listened to the music from your childhood on rainy days. Every Saturday, you took a blanket to the fields and lay beneath the stars, counting constellations and connecting the dots. “I like it when it’s like this,” she once said, “When it’s still. When it’s calm. When the sun’s gone and the moon has his little moment to shine, to let us all know he’s there.” You returned her smile. “Lights out,” she said.
That summer transformed you. You were healthy, your mind was clear and you felt like you could breathe. With this clarity, you spoke to your mother and apologised, for the things you had done, for the things you had said. While she cried, she understood your anger, your sadness, and how life had been harsh to you. She hugged you for the first time in fifteen years.
On Tuesday, July 18th, you went to pick up some flowers for Alice for her birthday. There’s a florist in town who bundles them together, arranges them in delicate vases, tulips, roses, magnolia. You selected the perfect bunch, each petal fresh and vibrant, each bud rich in colour. On the way home, you stopped by the jewellers and picked up the ring you had chosen months ago.
As you approached the end of your road, you knew life was about to change once again, as you ran your thumb across the ring in your pocket. A person was sat on your doorstep, sporting an olive mohawk with a toothpick grin, and a greaser jacket dotted with metal studs. You recognised him as you got through the gate, that’s when you knew it was true. Billy Ross was back.
Your Father rests in Johnson Cemetery, next to his father and his father before him. At the time, death was heavy on your mind, and you too hoped to be buried there, beneath the fresh grass, amongst the daisies and daffodils. Every Tuesday you went down and cleared the autumn leaves from his grave. You spoke to him, told him about the new poets you’d discovered and the new poems you had read. We are Seven, by Wordsworth, was one you studied, hoping it’d help you with the loss; you couldn’t find the strength to subscribe to its optimism, no matter how many times you read it. You were above ground, Father was beneath it.
One night, the Bartholomew kids vandalised the graves, you knew it was them. The joints by the tombstones, the sneaker prints in the dirt. You spent the day picking up empty soda cans, empty beer bottles from the empty, reckless youth. That evening, you followed the eldest one home and threw a stick through the spokes of his bike; he hit the ground hard, the gum flew from his mouth, a tooth bounced into the gutter. You grabbed him by his shirt and threatened him; he shook in fear, he soiled himself and you left him there to weep.
Your mother found out. You knew she would, she had to know where you were, every second of every day. She faced a toothless, limping boy with an angry Mother at her doorstep but they couldn’t force an apology from you. In an attempt to extinguish your anger, she seized control of the house and soon, your life. Overnight, poetry was eradicated. “It’s not good for you,” she said; she threw away your literature. Anything in rhyme or prose was thrown on top of the casserole and beetroot salad you didn’t eat, stomped down by a heeled shoe and hurled into the Sunday garbage truck. You found a cross above your door and a Bible on your bed; it went straight into the bottom drawer. She never found The Masque of Anarchy, hidden underneath your mattress, along with a couple of Playboys, but the house was void of books and art in an attempt to tame your iconoclast persona.
It was a mystery how Father, kind, sweet and gentle, managed to marry this woman. You knew she never liked the way he read to you each night when you were younger, but never thought it would go to this length in his passing. You never accepted her as blood, despite holding the same build, the same eyes, the same frown. You held your atheistic views whilst she had her Christian values running through her veins, five generations thick; they were fierce, they were strict.
You joined the army at the age of eighteen. Whilst sat at the back of the bus on Ronaldson Avenue, your bag between your legs, you saw Alice Meadows sat the on edge of the fountain. Her pink dress made her shine like a flower amongst the hard, concrete buildings. She waved and you waved back. “Goodbye Alice,” you said, through the thin sheet of glass.
You sat next to Patrick Wilson on the journey. He introduced himself; “I’m Patrick, I’ve got a nervous disorder.” You shook his hand, his sweat coated your palm. He explained that joining the army was the only choice for him. His family had very little money and this was his only future, to fight for his country. You lied and said you had the same reason, but deep down you knew it was to escape your mother and her regime. A lion cannot be caged.
You found your tempo in the rigorous routines. Making beds, cross country runs, weapon assembly, orientation, survival trips in the woodland. You felt as if there were a small stone inside of you and it grew with each drill, with each order, to become a hard, masculine boulder. You were the only one who never flinched when Sergeant Angus spat in your face. His booming voice at the end of the night was oddly calming, and it switched you off. “Lights out, cadets!”
You stuck with Wilson during the training. He admired you, although at the time, you didn’t know. You shared jokes and stories from your childhood. Wilson had it rough, but he never let it get him down. He was cornered by Adam Pear and Edgar Mow down by the creek on a morning run. You fought them off; they never laid a finger on him. The thrill of the fight excited you, throwing punches, blocking fists. That boulder inside you shattered the glass cannons of the young boys. You felt strong, you were strong.
But Wilson feared the world of combat. He kept saying to you he wasn’t ready, that there wasn’t a man to emerge from within, nor would there ever be one. On Christmas day, you found him in the lavatory. Blue face, blue toes. For the first time in his life, Sergeant Angus spoke with kindness and sympathy as he tried to calm your tears and soothe your senses. “I’m sorry, cadet. It’s never easy and it never gets easier. You’ve got all of us with you. We’re a team.” He spoke like Father did; he looked like him, with an anchor moustache in a perfect trapezoid beneath his nose, and emerald eyes. However, his words never repaired your broken shell. Time slowed to an andante pace, and it halted when they couldn’t get you out of bed. You signed the papers, you packed your things, they sent you home.
Your room was different when you returned. The Bible sat on your bedside table, the cross above the door was bigger, and the curtains were a bright beige instead of the juniper you liked. They were horribly thin and let through the sunlight.
You tossed the Bible onto the floor, pulled out a cigarette and you hit the whiskey, hard.
If you were ever looking for the shortest poem that spoke the loudest, it might just be this one. The piece is one that is known by many – however, if this is your first time reading this poem, you surely won’t forget it.
Pound encompasses our fears in one, short stanza. Life is fleeting. Keats similarly touched upon the subject and it’s heavy and haunting; there’s just not enough time to complete our goals – whatever they are. Time escapes us. As poets, as writers, it’s a feeling too familiar that although there are thousands of ideas we have in our heads, it means nothing if it isn’t written down.
For me, this poem is the epitome of the wake-up call. Whatever it is you want to do in life, whatever it is you want to achieve, whatever it is you want to become, it requires work, it requires time, and you have to start right now. Turn off the television, put down the book, finish your pint. It motivates me in wanting to not only shake the grass but tear them up from the roots, salt the earth behind and let everyone know that Nesbit was here.
— — —
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass