Your heart is dancing

MRI Sagittal view of the heart. Image courtesy St Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, Canada
MRI Sagittal view of the heart. Image courtesy St Paul’s Hospital, Vancouver, Canada

Your marrow misbehaves
but a large part of you
is dancing. 

Your heart is dancing a minuet,
dancing through
the inner you, 

and you are still truly you,
deep as cells, deep
as metaphysics.

My brother-in-law, as part of the management and treatment of his leukaemia, watched his own heart beating during a scan. He was filled with wonder at this marvellous privilege and at the beautiful dance his heart was performing. 

poem by rachel mcalpine cc-by-2.0

Language laundry


Overnight, all words are rinsed
Ready for new adventures.
Even words like ‘content’,
‘co-finance’ and ‘leukaemia’.

pic & poem by rachel mcalpine cc-by-2.0

Squinting at death


I am squinting at death
but death pixillates
into cubes
of bright.

I am looking for death
but death hides
his white eyes and bitten nails
behind my shopping list.

I am listening for death
but death’s voice is muffled
by a toddler trying
to say her cousin’s name.

pic & poem by rachel mcalpine cc-by-2.0

Facing the unbearable: poems about dying wisely


For the next two or three weeks, the poems on this blog come from a special section in my collection Senior Poems. The section is called “Dying Wisely”, and most of the poems are about the terminal illness and death of my very dear brother-in-law, Professor Graham Nuthall. (This is not a recent death, by the way.)

The death of anyone you love is different from every other. And you experience this death in a different light from anyone else.  It seems almost presumptuous to write about this death, knowing that my own feelings were surely but a pale distortion of what my sister, his wife, and his children went through.

And although I write about the lessons I learned from Graham’s death, I would  never pretend that I know anything about death in general. Only about how his particular illness and death seemed to me personally. The poems reflect flashes of insight for which I am grateful. The writing was a powerful part of the process, helping me learn more.

As I typed the poems into my blog, one by one, and as I type these thoughts, I get echoes of that same scouring grief. The same fear and panic as I contemplate future deaths, the inevitability, the mystery, the void. And the same intense gratitude for the dear departed — not just Graham, of course, but my parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts, and some close friends.

Dying wisely may be an impossible dream. Grieving wisely is hard enough. But we all do our best, and our best will be good enough, this I know.

I would really appreciate hearing your own thoughts about the poems. Ways in which your own experience has been similar, or different. Your own fears, hopes, and inspirations. Your changing attitudes towards death as you grow older.

pic and words cc-by-2.0 rachel mcalpine