Monday I was late to work, caught a late bus to work, which was later still because of a huge hour-long hold-up on Jersey's Route 17. As the bus inched closer to what I'd already guessed would be a wreck-scene, you could see yards of tire tracks in the grass on the side of the road, then, finally, a silvery car smashed head-long into a tree. A yellow plastic tarp covered a body next to the car. (That's when one of my fellow-passengers--aged 22 or so, pale as a ghost and glib with youth--piped up to no one in particular: "Whoa! That guy's gotta be dead!" Gee, ya think, Dude?)
Somebody died in Allendale today.
Near noon, on Route 17. I was late for work.
Was he reaching for his coffee,
or to put out a cigarette?
Was he mad at someone passing
in this rain?
What song was playing?
His yellow plastic tarp
will outlast his remains.
My boss does not complain.
My poem is pitifully flimsy, of course, but I was reminded of other poems about sudden, surprising death that have literally made my heart ache:
THE DEATH OF THE BALL TURRET GUNNER
by Randall Jarrell (1945)
From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.
by Robert Frost
The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood,
Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it.
And from there those that lifted eyes could count
Five mountain ranges one behing the other
Under the sunset far into Vermont.
And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and rattled,
As it ran light, or had to bear a load.
And nothing happened: day was all but done.
Call it a day, I wish they might have said
To please the boy by giving him the half hour
That a boy counts so much when saved from work.
His sister stood beside him in her apron
To tell them "Supper." At the word, the saw,
As if it meant to prove saws know what supper meant,
Leaped out at the boy's hand, or seemed to leap -
He must have given the hand. However it was,
Neither refused the meeting. But the hand!
Half in appeal, but half as if to keep
The life from spilling. Then the boy saw all -
Since he was old enough to know, big boy
Doing a man's work, though a child at heart -
He saw all was spoiled. "Don't let him cut my hand off -
The doctor, when he comes. Don't let him, sister!"
So. The hand was gone already.
The doctor put him in the dark of ether.
He lay and puffed his lips out with his breath.
And then - the watcher at his pulse took a fright.
No one believed. They listened to his heart.
Little - less - nothing! - and that ended it.
No more to build on there. And they, since they
Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.
And then there's Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood," which I just a few weeks ago re-read. The ultimate painful, heart-breaking "death-poem." (Babe, the horse, is what I keep remembering the most for some reason...)