This poem appears in the Winter 2021 issue of Modern Age. To subscribe, click here.

     After Larkin

Shouldn’t the moment be more—well, dramatic?
Shouldn’t it toll like Donne’s dead-bell? But no.
Mere paper-rustling. It’s a burst of static
That stutters off to silence, while late snow
Alights outside and melts forgettably,
A numb reminder. Nothing I can see
In the small print addresses dread, or God,
Or love. Somber reflection? Not a bit.
Forms in quadruplicate:
White over yellow, pink, and goldenrod,

For a dead end. No hymns, no holiness—
No funeral; every gathering spreads the plague.
Perfunctory forms depress me, and they press
Me now, because I’ve left so much so vague.
When until now has dying loomed so real
I shrank from my dead flesh? Or when did I feel
This keen to leave less horror for my son
And daughter? Save them shock-and-awe about
Choices, when mine run out?
I mutter grimly, I will get this done.

And still I sit here, playing my numbers game,
Tossing my rhyme-pairs into the winds of fear.
Back to the labor. Back to the minor shame
Of shuffling off my life (check there, sign here).
Earth gets my ashes—grudgingly, on terms
That reek of real estate and legal firms.
Transfer-on-death arrangements and new will
Spew gray phrases: drone and drone and drone.
Like worrying a bone,
This work to stifle terrors I can’t kill.

So work—bending the spirit to the letter,
Bowing the head at how the flesh unweaves—
Goes down like a stiff drink; the ache’s no better
Yet, for the iron aftertaste it leaves.
Here, plague: take this dull prose; spare those I love.
I sign at all the Xs (and to prove
My resoluteness, press hard on the pen),
Scribble the check and seal the envelope.
Clinging weakly to hope,
I thumb the stamp on. No one says Amen.