Coming to terms.

For Dugald, November 20th 2008.

How will death arrive?  The closing event in our brief existence can be cruel for some.

An Ikon from 1949

After I nearly killed myself  I didn’t swim for weeks.
Not for fear of water but the towel’s rub on skin.
Each time I rubbed along the arms the current raced again,
my hands were on the wire and I was locked immobile,
hanging quietly in the tree on the high voltage cable.
Aged eight, this was no abstract fear of death,
but a replay of the realisation of dying,
that only faded as I came to terms with being.

Death had missed me three years earlier,
casually slipping past to take Mike East
and carry him to stillness beneath the lorry’s wheels.
As Mike touched the tyre, as I would on the wire,
– did he feel cheated?
In a faded image from a broadsheet of that time
two crouching police inspect the lorry’s killer tyre.
A naïve reporting of a child’s sudden death,
and an icon for the years to my full term.

There have been other sorties with the Spoiler:
an endless lonely night in icy Northern Persia,
juggling water to prevent the explosion of a boiler,
just missing the inferno in the Kings Cross tube,
and a head-on, write off, car crash on a frosty road.

Far more to be feared is that slow decline to death
the reduction of self in frozen time for my wife’s father
in which each familiarity that forms the known is lost:
strength, height, weight, sight, hearing, humour, speech, all robbed.
Worse, if in advanced old age there is no feeling of completeness,
no lustre of life’s ripeness, but still a sense of loss,
then there is no easy coming to term.

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