“I can’t breathe”

Words that have rocked a nation. Rocked many nations. Terrible last words.

Our first breath (inspiration) and our last breath (expiration) are involuntary, the one to fill the lungs with air, the other finally to let go, often after a pause of some minutes.

I was not able to be with my mother when she died, and her death was sudden and catastrophic. Death’s estrangement is unremitting, but I think we are entitled to hope that there is some final reconciliation that takes place. However reconciliation is an encounter, death an undiscovered country.

Rilke has expressed my hopes in an extraordinary late poem which I have translated from the french. (Tolstoy, in prophetic mode, covered similar ground in his short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich).

Our next to last word
will be one of desolation
but facing mother-conscience
the last one of all will be beautiful.

Because we'll need to summon
the whole force of a desire  
that any taste of bitterness
will not know how to hold back.


Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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