Everytime I Die (Ken McKeon)

Four Poems by Ken McKeon

Afterlife
Evening Words
Morning Sighting
In Place

Afterlife

The guy had carried his bike around the mudslide
That has cut off Big Sur from the north for months,

Then he rode on down
An empty Highway 1,
Hardly anybody else around,

An empty zone,
A former world,
He found himself a ghost returning.

Air, as clear as ever,
Even with the
Broken bits of fog,
Sun touched now,
Yielding to the light
Sweeping down steep cliffs,
Pine needles, rough bark,
Clarity of stony outcrops,
A brief meadow,
Dew damp,
Dotted with wild flowers,

I’ve a mind to stay here forever,
I am forever,

Hawk sent, spilled down,
A swoop and a dive,
But I cannot clutch the sea,
Nothing can.

The surging backward lift and fall,
My heart is level with
The intentional otter,
It smacks the abalone
With a rock,
It shudders along with everything else,
It opens, it feeds,

I find myself walking up the gravelly beach,
I leave no foot prints,
Only the sea,

Leave that?
Impossible.

It strikes me every time I die,
There is no other world.

Evening Words

The day went by too fast,
It just zipped on through,
Shadows barely formed
And then they flipped,

So curiously real,
Presence becoming absence
The whole day long,

I felt it on the inside,
The receding forwardness
Of each step I took,
Try as I might,
I never caught up,

Just what should I do?

I sought a friend,
I clutched the air,
I looked ahead,
I stared out as far as night,

To see my friend gliding through a door,
That had opened just for her,
And she soon was out of sight,

And I could find only myself,
Alone here, stumbling here,
Bare, lightless, cold.

Morning Sighting

Nothing going on yet,
No traffic of any sort,
Only a cat
Prowling through the garden,

It’s light stepping and lean,
Has pointed ears, luminous eyes,
Its head is still,
Its moves are quiet,

Every now and then
It pulls back slightly
And leans imperceptibly
Into a sound or smell,
And then it proceeds.

It is death that roams so,
Death that would tear and feed
On bird or mouse,
Death that is noiseless,
It goes without a sound.

It does not even purr,
Does not even seem
To notice me,
But I notice it,

And death knows that,
It must,
For I am tense
And my mind is
Cold and fitful,
My flesh, bothered, chill.

I bet that makes death smile,
Not that it shows.
Death has all the time in the world
And the day is young,
Even as I am old.

In Place

More than ten steps down,
Steep steps,
So switch the light on,
Go carefully until you find
Yourself on the level floor,

Here the light is usually low,
The air still.

But the whole room
Hums with prayer wheels,
There’s a bit of creaking,
Maybe even incense.

Find a cushion,
Sit yourself down,

There’s nothing much to do,
You don’t even have to think,
About bringing your heart,
It’s always here, isn’t it?

If it’s not, that’s no longer your concern .

So much for always,

The same with your breath,
Your precious breath,

Heavy brow
Stiff shoulders,
Now take a breath,

The spine lifts easily
The hips settle,
The buttocks,

Nose and mouth,
Ears and eyes,

Everything’s in place,
Talk about good luck

3 comments to “Everytime I Die (Ken McKeon)”
  1. The last poem is actually two poems, or so it seems to me. The first ends with the line: so much for always. The second poem follow as given, except for the first line. That might be changed to something like: the breath is not forever. I don’t know. The poet needs to work these things out better. It’s his job.

  2. Or the poem “In Place” could be the inhalation and exhalation of a single breath: arriving and settling in. The last line, “talk about good luck”, ties all four poems together: morning and evening: time and place: now and always, living and dying–the usual culprits of life in all its guises . . .

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