Feel Me

By May Swenson 1913–1989 May Swenson
“Feel me to do right,” our father said on his deathbed.
We did not quite know—in fact, not at all—what he meant.   
His last whisper was spent as through a slot in a wall.   
He left us a key, but how did it fit? “Feel me
to do right.” Did it mean that, though he died, he would be felt   
through some aperture, or by some unseen instrument   
our dad just then had come to know? So, to do right always,   
we need but feel his spirit? Or was it merely his apology   
for dying? “Feel that I do right in not trying,
as you insist, to stay on your side. There is the wide   
gateway and the splendid tower, and you implore me   
to wait here, with the worms!”

Had he defined his terms, and could we discriminate
among his motives, we might have found out how to “do right”
before we died—supposing he felt he suddenly knew   
what dying was. “You do wrong because you do not feel   
as I do now” was maybe the sense. “Feel me, and emulate   
my state, for I am becoming less dense—I am feeling right   
for the first time.” And then the vessel burst,
and we were kneeling around an emptiness.

We cannot feel our father now. His power courses through us,   
yes, but he—the chest and cheek, the foot and palm,   
the mouth of oracle—is calm. And we still seek   
his meaning. “Feel me,” he said, and emphasized that word.   
Should we have heard it as a plea for a caress—   
a constant caress, since flesh to flesh was all that we   
could do right if we would bless him?
The dying must feel the pressure of that question—   
lying flat, turning cold from brow to heel—the hot   
cowards there above protesting their love, and saying,   
“What can we do? Are you all right?” While the wall opens   
and the blue night pours through. “What can we do?   
We want to do what’s right.”

“Lie down with me, and hold me, tight. Touch me. Be   
with me. Feel with me. Feel me to do right.”

May Swenson, “Feel Me” from Nature: Poems Old and New. Copyright © 1994 by May Swenson. Reprinted with the permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Source: Nature: Poems Old and New (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1994)

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Poet May Swenson 1913–1989

Subjects Relationships, Nature, The Body, Living, Family & Ancestors, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

Occasions Funerals

 May  Swenson


During her prolific career, May Swenson received numerous literary awards and nominations for her poetry. Often experimental in both form and appearance, her poems earned her widespread critical acclaim. As Priscilla Long commented in the Women's Review of Books, "Swenson was a visionary poet, a prodigious observer of the fragile and miraculous natural world."

Swenson's poetry has been praised for its imagery, which is . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Nature, The Body, Living, Family & Ancestors, Sorrow & Grieving, Death

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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