Writing Your Own Obituary
A neighbor fell out his window Monday morning.
The paper says he was a family man, excelled at crosswords,
hoped to finish hiking the Appalachian Trail this fall.
His life shrunk to a paragraph in the back of the paper.
I’m eating oatmeal and almonds, reading the obits
while Anne catches up with the Kardashians,
fast forwarding through commercials.
She thinks I’m wrong insisting the Kardashian brother
is putting on weight for the ratings. “They’ve seen
the numbers for Biggest Loser and Dance Your Ass Off.”
“I feel sorry for him,” she says. “They just pick on him.”
“It’s reality TV!” I say. “He can choose his troubles.
Hire Body by Jake. Be known as the guy who lost weight.”
I study the smiling faces of the dead, the names
(Arnold, Alexa, Bonazzo), ages (54, 86, 25!), try
to tease out causes (died suddenly, after a courageous battle,
entered eternal rest). When Alfred Nobel
read his obit headline, “The Merchant of Death is Dead,”
after a paper confused him with his brother,
he decided to be known for peace instead of dynamite.
We regular Joes don’t get headlines –¬ just name
and narrow paragraph. In Aunt Teresa’s Ireland
you were known by your troubles – “Is that the Donnellys
with the drowned boy?” she’d ask. “Or the Donnellys
with the mother kicked by the mule?” – final acts cling
like headlines to their kin. When I was shot
while hunting quail, the local headline read,
“Man Shoots Friend, Not Bird,” rather than “Teacher Dead
at 29,” but when the blast first swung me around, when
I dropped to one knee and raised my shirt
to see forty bloody pellet holes in my ribs,
when I later peed blood, I thought, “Get married,
have children, live a life worth summarizing
in a newspaper paragraph.” Writing your own obit
is an eighth grade assignment: “President Peters
Dead at 86,” a New Age grab for all you desire:
“Million Dollar Poet Buys the Farm.” Write it
ten times a day and it will come true. But
I know the right answer: three children raised,
crosswords solved, hopes to hike some trail
some day, outline a life well lived. No amount
of headline pun will dress up “Bill Payer Perishes,”
“Kept Lawn Trim and Green,”
“Kids Stayed (Mostly) Out of Trouble”.
“Is there another Kardashian brother?” I ask Anne.
“One who opted out – teaches special ed in Ventura,
drives a Camry?” But she’s clicked off the set
and we stare at the sudden blackness of the screen.
Outside, basketballs echo off the pavement.
Neighborhood dogs bark greetings and gossip.
Justin’s Note: Reality television is a tumor that hides deep within the mind, so deep it penetrates one’s soul. It starts out benign, but it grows. It isn’t merciful like some cancers; it doesn’t kill you. It makes you live out your life as a lobotomite. Jack uses it as a framing device in this insightful poem delving deep into the human psyche.
Bio: Jack Powers’ poems have appeared in The Southern Review, Rattle, The Cortland Review and elsewhere. He teaches special education and writing at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, CT. More poems at http://www.jackpowers13.com/poetry.