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‘The Leaving It’

When my time comes to ‘shuffle off’, to sling my hook,
to pop my clogs, to contemplate the river’s brink,
to settle my account and close the book,
to make my way through emigration
to ‘the undiscover’d country’ where — it would be nice to think —
they have a well stocked library-cum-lounge-bar in the sky

will I

find consolation as I go ‘into that good night’, good day,
with friends around the bed, drinking champagne,
they out of glasses, I — once more a baby — from a beaker with a straw,
light-headed but still functioning,
the pain kept chemically at bay;


with a stream of filthy curses,
final flailings of a drug-befuddled brain
staring at doom,
betray its secrets better hid,
the lid embarrassingly lifted on the id,
causing firm and kindly nurses
rapidly to wheel me to a private room?

The manner of too many deaths I’ve seen suggests
I may be forced to make my last requests
by merest movements: twitchings of an eyebrow,
liftings of one trembling finger somehow signalling assent, dissent.
The watchers over me will ask each other what I meant.

To very few is granted
an exit all of us have thought about and wanted,
the gentlest change of element, of gear:
a ceasing of the heartbeat in mid-sleep,
departure unaware,
the parachutist taking to the steady air,
the swimmer welcomed to the deep, without indignity or fear.

The Plymouth Brethren taught me as a boy
to hope that we, the righteous,
would escape death’s agony and Tribulation’s woe
completely; we’d be ‘taken’ in the Rapture, captured,
caught up, levitated, holy parachutists in reverse,
to meet our Saviour in the atmosphere
(joy unconfined, though altitude unspecified)
and join the resurrected saints who had already died.
And this might happen any time: next week, next year,
tomorrow… What a way to go!
Despite my early tendency to vertigo,
each night I would rehearse the prayer
that I might be included in that hovering in air…

Useless. God wasn’t listening. I knew His wrath
was terrible; to me, it seemed, His ear was cloth.

Well, that’s all finished with. It’s hard now to believe
that I believed it then. I won’t be up there in the ranks,
panoptic, recognising, ‘face to face’. Earthly metaphors
will do for me: clogs, hooks. So when they call my number
(not the roll that’s called up yonder)
for what I’ll have received (I say my grace)
I hope I’ll have enough puff to give thanks.

Audio file

Listen to this poem — read by the author