At the End of Life, a Secret

By Reginald Dwayne Betts
Everything measured. A man twists
a tuft of your hair out for no reason
other than you are naked before him
and he is bored with nakedness. Moments
before he was weighing your gallbladder,
and then he was staring at the empty space
where your lungs were. Even dead, we still
say you are an organ donor, as if something
other than taxes outlasts death. Your feet
are regular feet. Two of them, and there is no
mark to suggest you were an expert mathematician,
nothing that suggests that a woman loved
you until you died. From the time your body
was carted before him to the time your
dead body is being sent to the coffin,
every pound is accounted for, except 21 grams.
The man is a praying man and has figured
what it means. He says this is the soul, finally,
after the breath has gone. The soul: less than
$4,000 worth of crack—21 grams—
all that moves you through this world.

This poem first appeared in New England Review.

Source: Poetry (November 2012).


This poem originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of Poetry magazine

November 2012
 Reginald Dwayne Betts


Reginald Dwayne Betts is the author of a memoir and two books of poetry. His memior, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery/Penguin, 2009), was awarded the 2010 NAACP Image Award for non-fiction. His books of poetry are Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James, 2010) and Bastards of the Reagan Era (Four Way Books, 2015). Betts is a 2010 Soros Justice Fellow, 2011 Radcliffe Fellow, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, The Body, The Mind, Time & Brevity, Religion, The Spiritual

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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