NaPoWriMo Day #29: Afterlife or Beforedeath

Amy Grier
2 min readApr 29, 2020
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash

Although we humans are good at denying the inevitable end of each of our lives, we engage with death on some level almost every day. Leaves dry up and fall to make way for winter snows; flies are swatted to keep a house clean; animals are butchered to feed families; viruses and bacteria are killed and washed down the drain as we soap up and rinse our hands.

It’s no wonder then that death, and what may happen after, has been a subject of poetry since poetry began. We don’t know if an afterlife exists or, if it does, what it looks like, but we can’t help speculating.

In “for grandma” by Jaki Shelton Green, the speaker describes an encounter with her grandmother after her passing:

i heard your voice this morning
speaking from the foot of the bed
your quilt crawled to the
floor…

The speaker hears her grandma and imagines the quilt has taken on her life force, having “crawled to the / floor.” After reflecting on this “sound of cloth / a casual sound,” she considers the longing we have for somehow staying connected to those who’ve passed on:

we all dream of landscapes
romantic deserts
white sands
connecting us together
a half dozen roses…

In “Aftermath,” Willa Cather’s speaker yearns for someone who has passed on before her, especially the desire to touch the person, a thought so painful she cuts it off with a dash:

Thou art more lost to me than they who dwell
In Egypt’s sepulchres, long ages fled;
And would I touch — Ah me! I might as well
Covet the gold of Helen’s vanished head,
Or kiss back Cleopatra from the dead!

The speaker in Tom Daley’s “Dragonfly” encounters a dead dragonfly in the stairwell of a parking garage (32 Poems Vol 3 No 1 p 22):

inert and dessicated,
papery fossil of an extinguished grace…

He then imagines what came before — the energetic, purposeful life of an insect now gone:

What a darting was here,
what whirled profusion —
mylar wings ribbed with veins
hammering a downdraft…

Write a poem that engages with the afterlife — or beforedeath. Perhaps you’ve had your own strange encounter, or imagined what will happen after you’ve gone. Is there anyone you’d hope to see again who has died? Can you depict the life that came before the dried-out flower in the vase, the dead squirrel on the road, the mown grass on the lawn?

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Amy Grier

Writer & editor. MFA Lesley Uni. Singer/pianist. Blogger @Brevitymag. Published Streetlight Mag, Poetry East & more. Current project: memoir, Terrible Daughter