trout [ 9 ] October 2001
Elizabeth Smither [ 1, 2, 3, ]


Sitting in Margo’s garden reading
Philippe Ariès’
The Hour of our Death


Every visit I take it from the bookcase
where it lies on its side with leaves inside
pressed between the cover and the frontispiece 

leaves as brown and dry as old bones
and sharp with the spite of death. I turn
the familiar pages and read the headings: 

The Tame Death, The Death of the Self
and if all history were portending
to a revision, deeper than deeds. 

The Age of the Beautiful Death,complete
acceptance or evasion, like two continents
in opposite hemispheres. Here, the Catacombs 

of the Capuchin Convent, Palermo: the odd choir
that has just shuffled in to fill the stalls
and here, in domestic Montepelier, Vermont 

the funerary scupture of Little Margaret, white
and pure. How could those skulls, if Margaret dug
undo her marzipan purity? Look, she might 

say, running with one as a vessel. What use 
can we put this to? What use is death?
And our attitudes to it, do they 

alter, in any respect, the angel, or just
the way we look at him? Those often-
elevated floor slabs of churches

hiding corruption in a blaze of lead and glass
or the quiet New England burial ground
of graves like gentle sheep, cropping together

in a meadow that seems more eternal
than their eliding inscriptions. The Dead Body.
The Visit to the Cemetery.
I close my eyes

then open them to look up at the sky
then the treetops, the climbing sweet peas
the pond with lilies, the cat’s grave

commemorated by a little stone wall
and a fresh tussi-mussi picked that day.
Between swooning and fright

between the heartsick knight and the hospice
between the neurological bright light
I close the book I love like a tablet.




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© 2001 Trout &
Elizabeth Smither