Facing Death, We Are Not Thinking of “Passing Away”

By Daniela Gioseffi

–for my husband in his 83rd year

We don’t talk about,
Going to a better place.”
We don’t believe in ghosts or heaven–
not hell either! We feel we will relinquish
our little ego and be nothing at all discernible
–simply energy into a wondrous universe
as “E equals MC squared.”
We stand in awe of the mystery
which brought all from a hydrogen molecule.

We joke about “croaking.”
We like the word “croak.” It sounds both raw
and funny like “Kick the bucket?” We wonder
at that phrase, its etymology and idiom.

Unlike Hollywood shows of dying as entertainment,
we don’t think of funerals as having a “home,”
and we don’t talk of being “laid to rest.”

We don’t consider which clothes we will dress in for death
or, how we’ll perfume it with flowers.
We know it’s coming,
and meantime we try not to let it get the best of us.

We know we’re not only among the living,
but living among the dying.
We want to bloom all the way open to truth
Which is beauty, exactly as Keats said.

Yet, growing old is like being punished
for a crime we didn’t commit.

“I have no mystery,” replies death.
I’m simply the absence of life.
Religions with their heavenly paradise seem like drugs,
but a truer opiate is understanding
that nothing awaits us
No feeling at all.
The solace of knowing
all our humiliations
sufferings and pain,

illness and bondage to duty and labor
are finished. Sheer joy will not remain, merely ashes
–the dust of energy expended in reproducing
life for others is what’s left.

We don’t fear death, but dying slowly
in pitiless pain, hearing, tasting choking breath,
cool doctors and polite nurses, hospital smells
and fitful sleep too incomplete.

In death, our freed bodies will float out of our brains
All we were will be left to others to decide or
remember or forget. Those we’ve birthed
into being will go on after us for quite a while, we hope,
And though we don’t want to die,
We don’t agonize about staying alive.

Let’s energize the present, and live now at last.
No one else can accomplish our death for us.
It is entirely a personal matter.
Death is only fearsome to the young.
“We are bare ruined choirs
Where late the sweet birds sang,”
Those songs live in our memories
until we’re memorialized by their melodies.

So, I will not wish you long years ahead
for that’s not necessarily kindness.
Friend of so many years,
may you die when you want to,
no sooner and no later.

2003 by Daniela Gioseffi

About Daniela Gioseffi


Daniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of 12 books of poetry and prose, and a retired professor who lives in New York City. Her first book of poems, Eggs in the Lake (BOA Editions: Rochester, NY, 1979) won her a New York State Council for the Arts grant award. Her second and third collections, Word Wounds and Water Flowers and Going On, were published by VIA Folios@ Purdue U, and her latest 2002, Symbiosis, is an e-book from Rattappalax.com, NY.

Her work appears widely in major literary magazines, on and off line, from The Cortland Review to The Paris Review, Chelsea, Antaeus, The Nation, Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Hungry Mind, and American Book Review to name a few. Her poetry is transcribed in marble on the wall of the newly renovated Penn Station’s Seventh Avenue Concourse. Daniela edits www.PoetsUSA.com.

Her renowned Women On War: International Writings, (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster) was reissued in an all new edition by The Feminist Press, NY, 2003. She also edited On Prejudice: A Global Perspective (Anchor/Doubleday 1993 and it won a Ploughshares Award for World Peace and was presented at the United Nations.

Daniela has given hundreds of readings throughout the U. S. and Europe and for NPR and BBC radio and many other television and radio stations. She won a PEN Short Fiction Award. Her volume of short stories and a novella was titled The Exotic Enemy. She has taught world literature, creative writing and invented a course titled “Tolerance Teaching Through Multicultural Literature.”

She taught at New York University’s Publishing Institute, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York and Long Island University, among other institutions, and is now retired with her husband, Lionel B. Luttinger, a Doctor of Chemistry formerly from Yale University. Daniela is 63 and Lionel is 83 and the retired, freethinking couple have six grown children, a mathematician, computer graphic artist, musician, environmental scientist, and biologist–all freethinkers.

Freedom From Religion Foundation