Upon My Death


Upon my death I want the stars to fall from the sky. I want the moon to turn red, angry at the injustice of it all. I want tears to flow like wine, and grief to be so heavy, so widespread that everything stops for a heartbeat to contemplate how things can go on when I am gone. Or at the least I want just one person to tweet “@SamMcManus u wuz cool, bro #rip #gonetoosoon.”

Upon my death I want everyone to exhale, to let out the breath they’ve been holding for far too long. I want a celebration of all the positive energy I’ve put out into the world. So I guess I should start putting out positive energy into the world sometime soon. I want people to remember me for who I am, not for who I always hoped I would be. Because I’m not perfect, and I don’t want the responsibility, even if I’m already dead.

Upon my death I don’t want to hang around as a ghost. I don’t want to stand by and watch the people in my life go on without me. I don’t want to feel that heartache that comes with knowing they’re doing fine but I can never hold them again. I don’t want to scream into the nothingness that would be my existence and get no reaction. I don’t want to feel emotionally lost again.

Upon my death I want to feel content. If death steals my future from me I want to know that my past was worth the time I spent on it. I want to know that I’ve done all that I can to support my family in every way possible. I want to know that I left nothing out there that I didn’t do my best to tie up. I want to know that at least one thing is better for me having been in this world.

Upon my death I want to be reincarnated so I can live again, because I’m selfish, because I can’t fathom a true end. I can’t imagine an endless void, a blackness so complete that it drowns out everything else. But I also can’t envision a tunnel, or a bright light, or any kind of heaven or hell. I have a hard enough time trying to figure out what I think is going to happen next week.

Upon my death I want to make some kind of deal with god. Because I’m afraid to die.



Tell No Tales

“Our dead are never dead to us until we have forgotten them.” ~George Eliot

The ditch was huge, an entire town’s worth of real estate under sea level, testament to what twelve men, a pickax, and five shovels can do under duress. To fall into the ditch was like dropping from a two story building, or like diving into an empty swimming pool, but no one was at the bottom. There was only dirt.

The surrounding area was also barren, devoid of human life as far as the eye could see, if any eyes were indeed around. If someone were to climb out of the ditch she could have seen what amounted to a ghost town, but without any ghosts. Memories floated like dust in the stale air, but they couldn’t attach to anything save for twisted metal and charred wood.

In the distance the sky was a blood orange hue, contrasted against the white, fluffy clouds like Cleopatra rising from the red Egyptian clay to rule an empty world. No noises could be heard, not even the sound of seagulls winging their way to the sea. On silent wings instead were carrion flies thick as mud, the only living creatures for miles, focused on the scent only they could smell.

Dry, stale blood littered the ground in striated patterns, like a Rohrschach test with no discernible meaning except to those who had gone through some kind of traumatic experience. No longer bright red, it was instead a rusty brown, testament to how long it had lain there in the dirt. The flies flocked to it like it was a gourmet meal just served up in a fancy restaurant, still uncommonly silent.

Empty buildings fringed a main street that could have been anywhere, except for the lack of traffic to and from each domicile and business. Apartment buildings, banks, churches, and corner markets all sad facsimiles of how they would have been elsewhere, bustling members of a community. Instead they stood sentinel to the devastation that had left the town a soul-less husk of itself.

The ditch stood like a gaping maw at the end of the street, as if waiting to swallow the town whole, an addition that would have unnerved a newcomer if any were around. But no one was around, and no one would ever see it, not anymore, save for the flies who seemed to multiply like legion with each passing moment. They swarmed the blood, feelers out, cleaning it like nothing else could, obscuring the evidence without realizing what they had been tasked to do.

Then they were gone as dusk came to claim the deserted town as its own, the twisted metal turning shades of purple and gray as it sat beneath the rising moon, white with opalescence. And the rain came in sheets, sudden like a thunderclap exploding across the valley. It began filling the ditch bit by bit, meter by meter, the rain an endless droning that almost simulated activity in town. Almost. It continued to come down in torrents until the ditch turned into mud, until it overflowed and dirty brown water spread across the lower end of the town’s main street.

The twisted metal was washed clean, the remaining blood drowned in the incoming vertical tide, the flies long gone as the assault wiped away the fingerprints of an aggression that had left its echo. From the ditch began to rise bloated corpses that had been buried under the dirt at its bottom, its supposed emptiness just a mirage, a band-aid on the real devastation within. One by one they rose to the surface, those men who had dug the ditch, who had unearthed their own burial sites, returned to the land where they had walked and talked in sheer ignorance before their end came.

As the rain began to peter out, around the enormous hole the bodies lay in judgement of what the town had become. And in the distance the sounds of fire engines laboring in vain could be heard, getting closer by the minute. The buildings waited in a silence so keen it was palpable. They waited for answers. They waited for a second chance that might never come.


Roger Smith, d. 2015

My friend has died, and I don’t even know how to process that. Not now. Maybe not ever. He wasn’t well, and he was in the hospital, but I never let my brain wrap around the fact that he might not ever get out, that he might pass, and so soon. It seems like just yesterday I saw him in Target, and he shook my hand, that strong handshake that I will keep with me. Surreal. That’s the word I was looking for, the word that says things just aren’t quite on kilter with the world. The word that says, “this should not be.”

And I know he’s not in any pain anymore, that his soul has parted the clouds and is soaring as I speak, heading where, I do not know. I only know that when his soul was down here, attached to his body, it did amazing things. He was my friend for a relatively short period of time, but in that relatively short period of time I recognized a kindred spirit, a wily soul that was more alike than different, and yet as unique as it was possible to be at the same time.

“Celebrate his life.” That’s what they all say at times like these, and I guess I would benefit from thinking of this as a chance to appreciate him yet again for the man he couldn’t help being. It’s the time to listen to his voice again in my mind, to access that mental picture I have of him animatedly telling a story, of him reading a poem, of him wearing a scarf like it was going out of style. I miss seeing him in those scarves. He made me wish my neck weren’t anti-scarf.

So I’m celebrating his life, celebrating the first time I met him, when he got behind that mic at the poetry reading nearly two years ago, with his folded up scrap of paper. He unfolded it carefully, gently, like a painter unveiling his masterpiece, and his deep, gravelly voice read those words as if he had just written them, as if this was the moment he had been waiting for all week. Because it was. And I was merely there as a fly on the wall, a silent witness to his discreet genius.

I miss him, and I didn’t realize it would be this profound a moment for me, a series of moments that take me back to when I first lost someone who meant something to me. He once told me that I was a phenomenal poet, and I remember he used the word “phenomenal” because I hadn’t expected it, because for him to find my poetry phenomenal was… surprising. It was an acknowledgment of a verbal dexterity I hadn’t realized I possessed, but he made it so.

And the loss stings, like a phantom limb that keeps itching, that reminds me of what’s been left behind: his words on those scraps of paper, his music on those treasured CDs, his memory on the walls of my mind like virtual art hanging slightly off, but it looks perfect that way. In that way, through those things left behind, I can remember him and mourn him at the same time, two sides of a same coin that keeps rotating even after he’s gone. Because he will never be gone so long as those who appreciated him while he was alive continue do so even now. Especially now.

To those nights at the Tram, Roger. You will always go first.


Brevity of Life

11060329_10206365585243611_3574390560280793056_nWhy do you think it takes someone dying for us to finally realize the brevity of life? I mean, we can be blissfully ignorant most times, can’t we? Someone we’ve known for our entire lives is someone we’ll know for the entire rest of our lives, or so we think without consciously thinking it. It’s just the way things are, but in the blink of an eye things can change. A diagnosis can happen, and we put on a brave face because how can it possibly be? It’s surreal… until the unthinkable happens and we have to cope with the loss of someone we thought couldn’t be lost.

I admit I fall into this trap way too often, thinking that the status quo will always be the status quo, but things change, and I am forced to change with them. People die and I’m challenged to deal with it, to keep on surviving. Because that’s what we all are, don’t you know? We’re survivors each and every single day because none of them are promised to us. The end of today isn’t even promised to us, but we live our lives as if it is. We waste too much time doing nothing of consequence, not spending time with people we love because we’ve slipped into these patterns of taking each other for granted.

Then time is up and the aftermath wakes us up, as if we were the ones who were dead and we’re finally coming alive. The mourning sweeps through us like a wave, toppling us from the ledge where we felt we were safe. Now it’s fair game, and we know we could be next, or the people we love. Isn’t it sad that it takes death to remind us that we should be alive? We go to the funeral, to the wake, to the calling hours, to pay our respects to the family that is shell-shocked no matter how long the person has been dying. We pay our respects to them, so why not pay those same respects to each other when we’re both still alive? Don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. I need to take my own advice.

Because life is short, no matter who you are.


This Mortal Lament

Beauchamp-Cooke-GraveRemember me in a sigh
Left behind in shadows
And inside closed rooms
In these echoing vibrations
Native to someone else
Vibrant like melodies
These shifting frequencies
That I cannot escape
Even from the grave

Honor me in a scream
Crashing like waves
And slamming into shore
Eviscerally gutting
Leaving nothing inside
In this encompassing void
Where my voice used to be
This uncanny reflection
Refracted like firelight

Forgive me in a second
Categorically nondescript
And silent as a tomb
In this neverending time
That gives and takes away
This whisper’s breadth
Exhaled to match my mood
The moment before the last
Such appropriate drama

But never pity me
In the hollows of your soul
Carved out of steel wool
Because life may be delusional
But death solidifies truth
Flatlined and calcified
Unyieldingly hard
Slipped under soft earth
One last eternal sigh

To disturb your unsteady footing.


Wanting to Die

kurtcobainperformance_638_0“No one wants to kill themselves. It’s simply a by-product of wanting to die.” ~Anonymous

I’ve long said that I have no idea what goes through the minds of people who commit suicide, but I think now that perhaps I do. It’s not much more than goes through the mind of anyone else who’s had a bad day, who’s had a series of bad days in a row, and who wants relief from them. It’s not much more than goes through the mind of anyone else who feels left out and misunderstood by others, who wants to be accepted by their peers, and who has been depressed for one reason or another. It’s not much more. The only difference is the end result.

The difference between wanting to die and actually attempting suicide can be as simple as one day where no one says hello, that tipping point that by itself seems small but that added onto the overwhelming list in the person’s mind becomes monumental.

Death is glamorized in today’s media too, what with the love of vampires, zombies, and various other undead creatures in books and movies, and the songs about dying early that seem way more prevalent these days than they used to be. When someone is already depressed and seeking ways out, seeing or listening to something that praises death can’t possibly be a good thing.

“And I swear that I don’t have a gun. No, I don’t have a gun. No, I don’t have a gun. No, I don’t have a gun.” ~Kurt Cobain

And having friends or a loving family doesn’t necessarily preclude someone from being a candidate for wanting to die either. How often have you been shocked by someone who has committed suicide because they seemed so outgoing, because they had so many friends, or because they had a loving family? No one knows what goes on behind closed doors, or behind the eyes of each individual, and who are we to judge someone’s happiness? Too many people are too good at pretense, which is so sad when that pretense does what it’s meant to do, namely lull others into thinking they’re okay. Continue reading “Wanting to Die”

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