I. THE CYNIC
I was the town cynic whose life was choked out
By a hidden disease of the heart
That I knew was there in my chest
But never told.
And I carried it around with me
And quoted verses to the people I met
About the vanity and absurdity of it all
And made them weep.
If only they could have seen
That beneath my arch smile
And the glint that came into my eyes of wicked humor
When they tried to soothe their own terrors
I clung to life.
I loved it, I daresay, far more than they
Who whispered to themselves comforting nothings
Because I alone knew what it is to live
A heartbeat away from annihilation.
II. THE PROPHET
I was the lonely soul
Who poured out her life to work for the benefit of uncounted millions
And didn't go out or turn off the reading lamp
Long enough to get a drink with friends or learn what people were talking about when they talked about things in the news.
And I thought that somehow if I read enough or
Helped enough souls
To live a little bit longer
It would open to me some truth.
But I never found it
And those I helped to go on living
With a modicum of comfort and dignity
Never opened my eyes, or revealed to me
Why any of us is here at all.
III. THE GURU
They all thought I had some answer
That plainly eluded them
And that by yoga and yogurt and Chopra
And bland flavorless meals stripped of any of the things
Human beings like to eat
I no longer feared death.
But none of them was with me in the final moment
When the great vastness of time unfolded itself before me
And I clung with terror to the bedsheets.
I might as well have eaten more sugar.
IV. THE REVEREND
I had not really read those Holy Books and Scriptures
To which I always referred the sick souls and the dying
And the lonely people thinking about the point of it all.
Not since seminary, at any rate.
But when my own time came I assumed
They would bring the comfort to me I had promised from their pages to others.
But when I opened them in the last moments
I could not find myself or my world in the furious drops
Of flaming rage dribbling from the lips of the prophets and martyrs.
And the only people in the book
Who evoked my sympathy
Were the ones whom the great cosmic powers seemed to scorn:
Judas, and Cain, and the woman who pitied the Sodomites
And became a pillar of salt for their sake.
V. THE FAITHLESS
In life I spoke with venom about
The empty hopes of the people I saw around me
And what weakling souls they seemed
To delude themselves with false promises.
But when I told them that death
Would come as a sweet empty blackness
Like the state before I was born
And that I would no more fear it than the old Reverend up at the church
Would be ashamed to meet his savior
Was that not a story and a myth
As comforting and baseless in its own way
As that one from ancient Palestine?
VI. THE POWERFUL
I went to school with the prophet and the reverend
And the guru and the faithless
I concluded that they would not find any answers to the questions they asked
They would consume their lives in such vain striving
And never taste the sweet rush of success.
But one time I
Hit an old dog with my car
An old mangy cur whom no one would miss.
And it seemed to ask me a question
That I desperately wished to answer.
And I caught a glimpse of something distant, full of pain
But before I knew it it was gone.
And the questions fell silent.
VII. THE JOKE
I was the scorned and the mocked
The butt of sophomoric humor
I had none of the consolations of (sex) or money
And did not possess the Teutonic genius
To explain to myself my plight
Or take comfort from a wry cynicism
Or a learned resignation.
My pains were undigested.
Yet they who pitied me in life never knew
That my life, mocked as it was, was simply asking me a question
And this question was answered by me
To my satisfaction.
And those who still nurse their vanity
And knowledge and cleverness and power
Don't have a clue.
VIII. THE TAME DEATH
I had always been prepared
To be broken up by life.
I had no expectation
That I deserved better
Than the common human lot.
I didn't think I was entitled
To find my image in the stars
Or to lead nations or write symphonies.
How funny then that I was the one who died
Surrounded by people I loved and who loved me
Who cried for me but not from despair
Feeling a great peace and sense of repose.
Isn't that strange?
How others die and face death
And how it seems to them when the lights go out-- I will never know.