The poet has been writing about death for decades.
I heard her read in the eighties. Then the nineties.
Always the same vatic droning, the sexless pose,
the morphine-like childhood, impending stasis.
Crickets, trains, falling apples, withering plants.
And yet she keeps living, grows old, still writing
about the end of her life, which is long in coming,
but in which she has taken pleasure and success,
winning prize after prize, moving from university
to university, where she can gaze on the young,
ruminate on the limbs of doomed Achilles.
Meanwhile, the women I know write too.
They write of medications that have failed,
of clinical trials they know might kill them.
They drain their lungs daily so they can breathe,
sign birthday cards to be sent posthumously
to their children, cash tucked inside.
They get up when they can, sleep when they can,
and when they can’t, they write to other women,
and we pray for each other in the night hours,
using the word soul unironically, since our bodies
have proven treacherous stone-hewn steps.
There is one—I won’t mention her name—
who will die soon, a month or two, she says.
But she climbed out of bed to ornament the tree.
Her purple cap is crooked, the seam’s in front.
Her skin is old milk and she leans on her son’s shoulder.
She hasn’t been posed sideways on a book flap, elegant,
sepia, isn’t lauded for her insights. She’s just dying.
Poet, speak your words into a kettle. I’ll die before you.
Nothing you offer will bring me any wisdom.
I would shove your books into an oven and curse death,
which has fooled you into thinking it’s beautiful.
You presumptuous cunt.
Anya Silver published four books of poetry during her lifetime and received a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship in Poetry. The poem in AGNI 91 is from Saint Agnostica, a manuscript she completed just before her death in August 2018 of metastatic breast cancer. (updated 4/2020)