A Pair of Poems About Dying
by Michelle McMillan-Holifield
Perhaps my sorrow began
with my grandmother’s sadness
threaded into every story she told.
Stories that still pass thru me
as ancient and new
as the earth.
I want to live those stories
to know her young and wild
to dance, muddy feet, beside her,
to love her before she was born
and as a child and a mother
in her suffering, play, work
as she baked, swept, sewed
broke, tore, mended
tilled, shucked, shelled.
I want to pass the truth
of her, whole, into the soil
to be reborn.
I picture myself when I am old
stuffing handwritten poems in a lockbox
and burying them in an inconspicuous plot
of yard caddy-cornered from the house so I can still
even at eighty have my eyes on them.
Of course, I’d have to get some lawn boy
to dig for me, what with my hands writhing
with arthritis, my herniated back bent and crackling.
Perhaps by then I will employ some young man
to mow grass patches and clear tree litter
for a measly old-lady fee, and he will plump the earth
for me, heaps of red dirt piling to my soft calves
and I will say That will do, I think and he
will say nothing, or maybe he will try to stop me
but I will be stoic though brittle, so he will lower
the box, pausing long enough to wonder
if there is money in it, and he will be disappointed
after the burial when he returns to find only
shreds of an old woman’s life in that coffin.
Michelle McMillan-Holifield studied poetry and creative writing at Delta State University in the Mississippi Delta, where she received her B.A. in English. Her poetry has been published in several journals, including PMS poemmemoirstory, Mississippi Poetry Society and Lullwater Review. Read her previously published poems in Deep South here and here.