Your Own Brand of Magic

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“Perfection Wasted” by John Updike

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That’s it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren’t the same.


My husband’s grandfather passed away on Tuesday morning. He took with him his own brand of magic that no one else will ever possess. Dirty jokes and toy trains and fishing trips. Card games and cigarettes. Raucous laughter and deep affection for his grandkids.

I sat on my porch after we heard the news and could almost hear his own disbelief that he died. I suspect he thought he’d live forever, or at least a hundred years more, sitting on his porch no matter the weather with his smokes and sudoku puzzles, fishing at Lake Shelbyville with Matt and Dad every spring. He and Matt talked about going down for a trip in May, when we saw him a month ago, the weekend we came home because we knew it was our last chance to see him. We knew it was a charade of nostalgia and grief and love for all of us.

This, though painful, is what we do at the end, because we hope that death is just a prolonged absence. We plan the fishing trip, and hope that when we too cross over to the other shore one day, that Grandpa will be standing there with his pole in hand, saying, “What took ya so long?”

I loved you dearly, you beautiful old man. Enjoy the fresh air.

Poem: Prayer

I stumbled across this poem the other day, and it spoke to me about the frustration we find with ourselves when we try to grasp the abstract things that seem so important – spirituality, love, generosity. We want to commit our thoughts to these things, but our small human brains become distracted by the tangible and mundane, by the immediate gratification of doing. I try to sit still, eyes closed in prayer, and I begin to think about lunch. I am so annoyingly human sometimes.

by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

Poem : The Memory of You.

Recent past eclipses healthy memories,
those days when your smile and skin glowed happy,
what do we remember from before?
all of us were young and unaware of a soon and threatening after,
of a life later,
when the living room is empty of you,
when sad, silent objects sit in your void.

Tears come, a slow tide of grief in the dark,
or in a swell surrounded by a sea of strangers,
an angry rock of grief grows in my throat as I flee
to bathroom, closet, closed door.
I drive apologetic and repentant all the way to work each morning,
all the way home at night, mascara running along the road with me.

And when I think that faith has failed me,
Take a deep breath,” you say.
The sun glows bright against glistening pavement,
a sparrow flies fast and free above me,

I breathe.

Until I see you again,”
I whisper,
Beatific, wholly holy, alive and well.”

Poem : Vespers

Speaking directly to my thoughts today…

by Moira Egan

One of the gifts of the evening hours
is darkness, a velt screen between your self
and the brutal art of dying.
Your knees, your shoulders, ribs,
are hard etched in the parchment of your skin.
You watch your own heart beat, you’ve grown so thin.
Another gift is numb, narcotic sleep.
Entire days drip slowly into veins,
the tubes exchanging morphine for release
from pain as deep and venomous as dreams.
Tonight I wish you this: a candle blown
out gently, the last page of your book,
and all your children near. And may your bones
sing, no longer with pain, but with roses.

[Found here.]

Poem : Ebb and Flow.

The complex fairness of it, and its paradox.
Fair, because she doted on me my whole life :
Swaddled, nourished, comforted, encouraged.
It’s her turn now.

But how unfair, that she should be weakened, helpless.
Her strength ebbs away, just out of reach for her,
for any of us, to grasp.
It’s the thing I cannot give her.

Where is the dignity?
All our lives we’ve struggled to find it.
It will be snatched away.
It will leave her lifeless in her child’s arms,
our world turned backwards.

The ebb and flow,
of fair and unfair,
of grief and joy,
of life and death,
of strange and familiar,
wears me down to nothing,
a smooth round stone for throwing.

[Written : 12.20.11]