Dying is easy…poetry is hard.

Anyone can die.  It is the easiest thing in the world.  No one has yet, in the end, failed at this endeavor.  Everyone succeeds in dying.  Living is like that, too.  So long as you’re breathing, you are living.  Easy as pie.

Poetry, on the other hand, is hard.  The word poetry comes from the ancient Greek word poein, meaning to make or to create.  So while living is easy, making a living, creating a life for yourself, is not.  Not everyone, it seems, succeeds at making a living, at living “poetically.”  When someone says, “life is hard,” that’s what I’m talking about.  Dying is also like that.  To paraphrase the immortal(!) words of Bruce Springsteen, “Everyone dies, baby that’s a fact.”  But to make something creative out of your dying…that’s not so easy, is it?

Randy Pausch tried to do it in his last lecture.  John Updike does it (well, he is a poet after all…) in his posthumous collection entitled Endpoint.  A sampling of these poems was published in the March16, 2009, New Yorker (subscribers only).

Here’s one of the poems from Endpoint that means a lot to me.  The Fred Muth of the poem was a good man.  He’s the father of my very dear step-brothers and sister.  When I was a kid, I used to look forward to getting a ride in his Porsche (no one I knew had anything so exciting!) and to canoeing on the Schuylkill.    He is sorely missed, as is the poet who honored Fred with his work and his lifelong friendship.

Peggy Lutz, Fred Muth

December 13, 2008

They’ve been in my fiction; both now dead,
Peggy just recently, long stricken (like
my Grandma) with Parkinson’s disease.
But what a peppy knockout Peggy was!-
cheerleader, hockey star, May Queen, RN.
Pigtailed in kindergarten, she caught my mother’s
eye, but she was too much girl for me.
Fred – so bright, so quietly wry – his

mother’s eye fell on me, a “nicer” boy
than her son’s pet pals. Fred’s slight wild streak
was tamed by diabetes. At the end,
it took his toes and feet. Last time we met,
his walk rolled wildly, fetching my coat. With health
he might have soared. As was, he taught me smarts.

Dear friends of childhood, classmates, thank you,
scant hundred of you, for providing a
sufficiency of human types: beauty,
bully, hangers-on, natural,
twin, and fatso – all a writer needs,
all there in Shillington, its trolley cars
and little factories, cornfields, and trees,
leaf fires, snowflakes, pumpkins, valentines.

To think of you brings tears less caustic
than those the thought of death brings. Perhaps
we meet our heaven at the start and not
the end of life. Even then were tears
and fear and struggle, but the town itself
draped in plain glory the passing days.

The town forgave me for existing, it
included me in Christmas carols, songfests
(though I sand poorly) at the Shillington,
the local movie house. My father stood,
in back, too restless to sit, but everybody
knew his name, and mine. In turn I knew
my Granddad in the overalled town crew.
I’ve written these before, these modest facts,

but their meaning has no bottom in my mind.
The fragments in their jiggled scope collide
to form more sacred windows. I had to move
to beautiful New England – its triple
deckers, whited churches, unplowed streets –
to learn how drear and deadly life can be.

–John Updike

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