Written by Cassidy Bull
Art by pixabay / 8385


I’m a poetry writer for a literary journal, but this month I’m coming up blank. The theme for this publication is death. I had no say in it, I’m not an editor. Needless to say, I don’t write poems about death. I write about love, flowers, the sky, the way entire cities streak by on long car rides, the smell of old leather-bound books stacked to impossibly high ceilings. Poetry should be pretty. Death isn’t pretty. 

After reaching out to my fellow poets, I’ve concluded they don’t mind the romanticization of the end of existence. It twisted my stomach and constricted my throat when they said just write about the elegance of gravestones, and just write about the gracefulness of falling into darkness. Just. As if it were some minuscule, easy, everyday task. 

Gravestones are not elegant. They’re thick, heavy slabs of rock with jarring letters to mark the positions of rotting corpses under the ground. Falling into darkness is not graceful. Falling is terrifying. And falling always comes to an abrupt, eternal end. 

Nevertheless, if I don’t write a poem, I don’t get paid, and it’s already arduous to make ends meet. The life of a poet is not as glamorous as it may seem. Though, I don’t know of one successful poet who didn’t suffer. Occupational hazard, I suppose. Maybe I should channel them. 

Following in the footsteps 

of lives taken too soon—

far too often by own hands.

I write about pieces of the world that bring me joy because I don’t like to look too far inward. It’s scary in there. Instead, I look outward. In hopes, perhaps, that some of the brightness might find its way to me. I admire those with the capability of turning their agony into art. But to do that, you first have to face your agony. It’s easier to bury it. Like the dead. Maybe I should get over myself. 

To write about death is fragmentary. 

Ink on paper compares not 

to deeply cut misery, 

grief gouged into chests. 

Words come not close to the everlasting 

anguish accompanying annihilation. 

I will not romanticize death. Mine will be the only piece in this magazine that doesn’t. I’ve witnessed enough dying to understand the glamorizing of souls’ demise is false advertising. Life is beautiful because it is alive. When it ends, it ends. Often without warning. Death arrives, but it doesn’t tell you when it’s coming. It’s like rude relatives who show up and take your food, your time, without asking first. No notice, a knock at the door, devilish smiles. They steal from you. Steal you. 

Death— the ultimate absolute. 

Wraps bony fingers around hearts 

and squeezes 

until it beats no more.

The dead do not return, 

they remain.

Gone.

Dead once, dead forever.

Only pieces stay—

their remains.

None of these poem scraps are very good. I suppose it’s alright if this month’s not my best. Everyone has some bad work to their name, right? My boyfriend told me just write a few lines, make it rhyme, and get over it. Yeah, he’s not really a connoisseur of the arts. Which is fine. It would be nice, though, for someone to be a little more understanding about this irritating internal struggle of mine. Just. I really wish I could just write a few lines, make it rhyme, and get over it. I mean, I am trying. 

Poetry and poem lengths are so interesting. Very few people can write an effective short poem. You have to really pack a punch in only a few words— every syllable brimming with purpose. It’s exhausting. I’ve never gotten a poem shorter than twelve lines published, I tend to embellish. One of our poets is brilliant with haiku. I am constantly in awe of her ability to move me with seventeen syllables. Five, seven, five. It seems so simple. They sound so effortless when you read them, but they’re essentially impossible to create. 

Aggressively long poems are troublesome too. You have to hook someone and keep them on the line to captivate for pages at a time. It seems exhausting. I’ve never even attempted that feat. One of our poets attempts it every time, and every time the editors cut it, slash it, wreak havoc until it’s a fraction of what it once was. Extensive elongation is often a symptom of the inability to know where to end. Fortunately, I always know where to end. I always know when poems need to die. 

Death belongs

not just to the living. 

The end of things—

ubiquitous.

Friendships evaporate, 

great loves expire, 

stories dissipate, 

poems die. 

A bitter end finds all. 

Destruction is never far behind creation. Everything croaks. From the moment existence begins, decay commences. As we move through our lives, we are moving toward our deaths. The first word of a poem is one word closer to the poem’s fatality. Our first breath is one breath closer to our last. Despite the pervasive myth of immortality, the only real certainty is mortality. 

It’s not something I like to think about. The futility of my being. Thinking about it leads to the mind pondering existential questions with no answers. Only the dead know the answers, and the dead tell no tales. I don’t like to think about it, but I do need to write about it. To write about it, I need to think about it. Death. Inescapable. Unwanted. Relentless. Perpetual. Omnipresent. 

Maybe that’s what I should write about.

The universality of death.