You Keep Squawking about Death’s Beauty, John McKernan

Dale Champlin, Lady Godiva, Collage, 2021



Rust    Bird beaks     Fur coats     Firewood      Potato
            wedges     Push lawn mowers    Broccoli au gratin

You write about how beautiful Death looked gliding out       
            of the cobalt blue sky

You whisper about Death’s lullaby lying there in her tiny      
organdy crib

You look this way & that side when the waxed hearse
            slides by on grease

You raise your eyebrows towards that enemy’s grin

You loll about  green fields trolling for grave markers

Your dreams of cliffs & sharks tell you won’t have long
            to wait   Technicolor yet!    With sound effects

You don’t wonder any longer whether someone can sleep
            a thousand years  

You wag your pointing finger in the cool air coated with
            raspberry jam

You watch to see what a maggot can do in clear daylight

Of course you are learned   The past crumbles    The future
            waits in a grain of falling sand

The hieroglyphic knife plane pill bridge word . . . . seem
            to possess a great calm                                                     

Stop    Open that door & the back window  so you can smell
            the cow shit crawling down the hillside

Remember the mother who burped onions at her baby’s

You have forgotten the full glass of water on the night
            stand beside your father’s bed

Remember when you kissed your brother? 

How cold his lips were lying on that oak & silk futon

How could you forget how easy it is to take a shotgun

Remember the shovel at your father’s funeral?

It was dirty     They hadn’t even cleaned it

And the grave diggers?   Their filthy beards     Their
            battered knuckles

You could hear their laughter through the smell of
            incense as you rolled up the car window

They were throwing the flowers like horseshoes out from
            under the green awning

The flowers were beautiful but they were ugly    Ugly

John McKernan


Review by Massimo Fantuzzi

Under my watchful eye all human creatures
Convert to a still life,
As with unique precision I apply
White lead and palette knife.
A model student of remodelled features,
The final barber, the last beautician, I. (Anthony Hecht, Death the Painter)

A series of choreographies, interactions, one-acts, temperatures, temperaments and textures, sounds and lights.

Attracted by death’s gravitational pull, every particle of life and every snapshot seem to acquire an additional gear, an added dimension, a tail of sheen coating: everything touched by it seems to gain echo and depth. In astrophysical terms, death, as mentioned in this poem, has similar properties to an Accretion Disk around its black hole. We feel life cannot but celebrate itself, even when confronted with its own demise. Remember the mother who burped onions at her baby’s funeral?

We end with the professionals, the gravediggers, rough and (for our standards) disrespectful creatures that live in the space in between, on that event horizon representing that shimmering dream-like interface. Sporting a filthy, unkempt beard, just like Charon in Dante’s Inferno, their job is to show us how it’s done.


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