Poem of the Week | October 19, 2010

This week, we present “To Whomever May Care for Me Dying” by Jonathan Johnson, which appeared in our Summer 2010 issue (TMR 33.2). Jonathan Johnson’s books include the poetry collections In the Land We Imagine Ourselves (Carnegie Mellon, 2010) and Mastodon, 80% Complete (Carnegie Mellon, 2001) and the memoir Hannah and the Mountain (Nebraska, 2005). He teaches in the MFA program at Eastern Washington University.

Author’s Note: “Every moment is an elegy, isn’t it? Even moments of great fortune. I recently returned to the United States after a year living in a Scottish fishing village with my wife and daughter. All the windows of our 370-year-old cottage overlooked the sea. On an island five miles out there was a lighthouse that started up every dusk. Best of all, we were free. We’d saved and plotted and made our escape. My wife took twenty-two thousand photographs. Our daughter studied the creatures in rock pools and collected shells from the beach and rode a shaggy pony named Patch. We walked the shore paths and highland trails for miles. Now and then we’d find a bargain and take a trip to the Continent to show our girl places her mom and dad had traveled when we were very young and first in love. And all the while I lived in and through my poetry. Poems-including those on the following pages-were simply how I inhabited my existence, how I met and made a companion of daily wonder.

“And of grief. For in devoting myself to the moment, I found the infinite losses that had given that moment to me.”

To Whoever May Care for Me Dying

Do what you must.
Swab the raw places
as delicately as you can,
but go on and swab them.
If I wince, I would be clean.
Such work befits those
who can see so little left
between skull and skin
and not think them.
You needn’t imagine
if I say I lived once
on the sea, in the wind
and sun. You’re not yet born,
I hope, so what’s this world?
If there’s nothing for the pain
there’s nothing. Thank you
anyway for the morphine
dripped from the eyedropper
onto my tongue like communion,
for the pink, wet sponge
small on its plastic stick
and dabbed on my lips,
if that’s where we’re at.
Thank you for the clean cotton,
for the comb and buttons
for as long as that was possible.
Step outside when you can
to look at light on things.
From this far I don’t know
what else may be required
but if there’s a rose
somewhere in the room
won’t you bring it to me?
Press its deep, open folds
right up to my nose.
And whatever song you might sing,
please, sing to me.