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The Last Word

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for Lem 

As if your half-witted tongue
Spoke with an eloquence
Death bestows, I heard your voice
Muffled through the dark
Layers of cemetery loam:
 
“They found me black-suited
In the shuttered half-dark, my eyes
Dug like claws into the clouds’
Soft feather-turnings. What kept me
Separate the broiling sun
 
Of intellect now shone on fiercely:
In the sheep-pens stinking
Of dung and lanolin,
I buried my face in the ewe’s
Swollen side and listened
 
For the lamb the way
The night sky listens
To the synapse-fire
Of meteors, the fibrillating
Heartbeat of the stars.
 
I heard the cells crackle
Into being, the embryonic
Brain begin to burn:
Hunger. Thirst. Beneath my ear
My own disastrous birthing,
 
The umbilicus strangling
Like a whip around my neck,
Shoved through the momentary
Breach memory tore open—
Dying revealed to me my birth,
 
How half my brain went dark,
One side of a universe
Pinched out like a candle:
Just smart enough to sense
My difference, yet not know why—
 
Even my death was the thrust
Of a bewildering punchline: On Thanksgiving
Morning mouthwatering
Pain shoved like a spit
From my bowels to my brain.”


Tom Sleigh, "The Last Word" from Waking, published by The University of Chicago Press. Copyright © 1990 by Tom Sleigh.  Reprinted by permission of the author.
Source: Waking (The University of Chicago Press, 1990)
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The Last Word

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