That would be the Matron's hands on the steering wheel during yesterday's hour-long drive to her mother's house.
In the far back of the van, silence prevailed. Scarlett read. Stryker bounced and mouthed to his iPod.
Directly behind me, a thought popped into Merrick's head. And stayed there. Took on new dimensions even as the original retained staying power. Developed nuance and flair.
Merrick: "Mama? When I am going to die?"
Matron: "Not for a long, long time -- nearly 100 years probably so you don't have to worry about that right now."
Merrick: "Could we get hit by a truck and killed, right this minute?"
Matron (who takes hurtling down the freeway at 70 MPH inside a shaky ton of steel very seriously): "Theoretically. But that won't happened today, I promise." Grip, grip.
Merrick: "Daddy will die. Everyone in California will die. Texas, too. Thurston's dead. Grandma Mary will die. You could crash and we will die. Today if you crash."
Matron--who is very superstitious and here, disaster has been introduced into her aura to sit all heavy and dark-- has no response. Turns out there's no need for one.
Merrick: "My fwens will die. I think that truck might hit us. See that? We would so die. Mama? I am just going to sing the Dead Song."
Which he does--for the entire drive. This upbeat ballad weaves through history, geography and space to encompass pretty much every word he's heard and person he's met (or heard of, like all those people in California) in order to link all sentient creatures to their inevitable demise.
As the Matron guided the death-mobile down the treacherous freeway, she experienced virgin emotional territory: she could not wait to get to her mother's house.
Finally, we arrived.
Merrick: "We didn't die yet. Maybe tomorrow. Grandma Mary will die. I'm gonna tell her. Then I'm gonna die."
Matron: "Remember, you don't have to worry about dying for 90 years!"
Stryker, exiting the van: "Don't listen to her, Merrick. She fed me that story, too. The average life expectancy for a man is 77.6 years which means I'm nearly 15% finished."
The Matron officially lost any sense of encouragement and cheer.
In that spirit -- and in celebration of Stark Reality -- here is one of my favorite poems about death, once again brought to you by Joyce Sutphen.
Death Becomes Me
Death has been checking me out,
making himself at home in my body,
as if he needed to know his way
through the skin, faintly rippling
over the cheekbone to the hollow
beneath my eyes, loosening
the tightly wound ligaments
in the arm, the leg,
infirming the muscle
with his subtle caress,
traveling along the nerve,
leaping from one synapse
to the next, weaving his dark threads
into the chord that holds me tall.
Death is counting my hair,
figuring out the linear equation
of my veins and arteries,
the raised power
of a million capillaries,
acquainting himself with the
calculus of my heart,
accessing the archives
of memory, reading them
forward and backward,
finding his name everywhere.
Death comes to rest in my womb,
slaking away the rich velvet
of those walls, silently halting
the descending pearls,
as if he could burrow in
and make himself my mother,
as if he could bare my bones
and bring me to that other birth.
Straight Out of View
Holy Cow! Press, 2001