Poet Death...Berryman, Sexton, Plath...A Poem



Berryman, Sexton, Plath...

what could they not bear to do?

Surely not the pain of poetry?

It was that kept them alive...

but some insidious thing,

black rot Van Gogh cypress in the cancer gut

grown huge and twisted

until it breaks the canvas bounds

and bursts the crown of skull.


Was it the burden of beauty

that makes its own demand to reverence and record?

Why do we owe beauty the essence of our being?

Why not note and quickly pass, ignore?

No obsession to enshrine the moment,

the timeless stone contained in transience.


Or, is it ugliness kills the poet as it kills the man,

horror that daily slays the soul,

an ounce of flesh clipped here, cut there,

til in the end there is none to give

but bone and final breath?

The pain of dying worlds that breaks the heart

but forces out the needed shriek and shout,

deprives insanity of our soul

and gives the world significance.


Poets know. They see the glint of beauty

in the ugly, the rotted spot at beauty's core;

dark brother, bright sister braided,

strand on strand entwined, soon lost track.

But does this knowledge cure or kill?

The artist lives and dies

for mottled truth, wounded beauty.


We die in many ways, many times a day.

Who can say when big and final death

will come, when we say the big goodbye?

When we may decide to take, be taken,

bring it on ourselves?

There is a need for death

at least as strong as need of life.

And when the balance shifts,

our graph remarks the day of storm,

our inner clock the leaving of the long, dark train

most seek to miss.


From our place of partial health,

desperation not yet unstrung,

we wish they had not crossed the line,

not raised their hands to wave farewell...

held on a moment longer to awkward, weighty baggage,

lived uneasily in ill-fitting skin

like a suit outgrown that can't be thrown away,

a snake not able to shed its shrinking tube;

somehow failed to kick the tripwire

that set the depot battleground alight.

But they are gone, they could not stay

to watch the stars course round the sky

another single second more, not another day.


To paint, to poetize, like incest lie

beyond the limits of society.

But for the artist, poet, one does

what one is, what one can, must be.

Does this aloneness wound the self,

bring such pain or shame in difference,

cast so far beyond the campfire's warming edge,

all man's linking sinews severed

by the very mind and art that give thoughts birth?

Why suffer so because we dare speak that which dwells

voiceless in us all? I hear the whistle blow.

The train departs. It is time to go.


Each day become a challenge

that more and more cannot be met.

The things most robot do,

all undone by pointlessness, despair.

The strength to summon inner force

too weak to void flesh flayed from nerve,

the shocking cannonade of life,

the razor's slash of daily news,

guitars amplified to madness.


Copyright by Don Gray


Don Gray Art  •  Poems