Acquainted with Death
by Benjamin Scott Campbell
This is an emergence of sorrow and hope following an acquaintance’s sudden and tragic death. In memory of Paul Landhuis.
Death is no friend, but an acquaintance to me.
I’ve met it twice or more.
It passes by as a speeding car disturbs peace
on a starlit road, reminding,
Like a pastor offers a bereaved wife tissues, saying,
“Child, ‘tis not weakness to weep,”
Death introduced itself to me in gentle condolences.
Ah, yes: the cat has died.
“Ashes to Ashes,” aptly, it cried,
and I was but three—I don’t even remember
the minute they brought the news.
“Tragic,” it consoled, “but natural.”
Kindly dress the wound you inflicted, O my acquaintance,
and I accept your sincere apologies,
It’s natural; it’s what happens to us.
But never mind.
“I’ll be back in some years to remind you again,”
said Death, fumes billowing out his exhaust like ghosts.
Brief, dreadfully brief, is the passing to and from existence,
and should I dare forget,
I remember her eyes,
her constricting irises pleading
as silent she lay on her side with
fluids dripping from her liver.
With the concern of a friend and an enemy’s nerve,
Death lay my grandfather beside her as she breathed her last,
seeking, I suspect, to soften its blow the following year.
“See? It is natural.”
But Death is not a friend; he is only an acquaintance.
Hovering like a blanket of clouds, somewhere in the troposphere,
turning over holy circles, Death lies beyond me.
Though I ponder,
though I and myriad ancestors pretend to understand,
it evades, encircles us until the day we’re marked for it.
“Fear not,” it says, “for I shall come some other day,
and in the meantime
have examples to spare.
I shall remind,
remind you. It’s only natural and fair.”
Do not come on careening tires.
Do not burst upon me in reckless violence.
Or can you do any other?
Do not mock the memory
and quiet of solemn, starry skies.
Curse your intimate defilement, your sweeping treachery,
though not your treachery.
Another’s treachery comes to remind,
remind me on this day,
when that day,
and minute bleed coolant, oil, and blood.
For although Death claims life by blood,
by blood and death Love gave me life.
So, shall I speak only of what I know,
of what I understand?
Or who may understand such things?
I know of one man who sees with eyes unveiled.
Beyond the veil of vision, another acquaintance is claimed,
like a crashing car, the threshold breaks asunder
and Death cries, “Another has slipped through!”
For it claimed a husk, not a vacant soul,
and Paul, may acquaintance—surely, my brother—
knows nothing of that hovering consolation,
that foul deception of natural processes.
In hollowed hands of hallowed grace, a cure is found,
and more than ever before
I am reminded,