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Sunday, September 11, 2022


by Martha Deed

Gravestone inscription: Erected in memory of Mrs. Kezia Cutter, wife of Mr. Richard Cutter, departed this life Dec. ye 1788, in ye 63rd Year of her age. "Watch ye, that live, for ye don't know / How near you are to death. / Or what may give the fatal blow / To stop your fleeting breath."

Life expectancy in the U.S. fell in 2021, for the second year in a row. It was the first time life expectancy dropped two years in a row in 100 years. —NPR, August 30, 2022

You could die of a sudden attack in church
be run over by a buffalo in Montana
be felled by a tree if you wielded an ax unwisely
or TB, smallpox or Typhoid
in a bomber over Northern France
drown at sea
die in childbirth
fall off a horse or a runaway train in the Rockies
be kicked by a Union officer’s horse between battles
be killed at Deerfield or in Narrangansett Swamp
by a rogue at a card game in Deadwood

Death was just around the corner in those olden days
Everyone knew that life was a delicate thread
stitching oblivion before birth to oblivion after death
survival provisional and linked to mere chance

The old-timers knew
You can’t turn your back on death
Death can find you any place any time

But now—now we 21st Century descendants
in a time of shrinking life expectancy
think we control our destiny
having survived hiding under desks
to fool the atom bomb

Now we do not await the trickiness of Fate
Now we have to look for the nearest exit
the place to run, hide or fight
at the grocery store or church or school
because we have turned nasty
or have not silenced others who have turned nasty—
the nastiest among us declaring supremacy
and the right to kill at will
die quickly on the street
or slowly by telling all the scientists
to go to hell

Martha Deed's poetry has appeared in The New Verse News and most recently or forthcoming in Moss Trill, Mason Street, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, Grand Little Things, The Skinny Poetry Journal. Her poetry collections Under the Rock (2019) and Climate Change (2014) and a third collection forthcoming from FootHills Publishing. She is a retired psychologist who makes trouble with poetry inspired by crises and other mishaps around her house on the Erie Canal in Western New York.