With these poems from Sharon Whitehill, we continue our series of original fiction or poetry by writers who either published their first book at 40 or after, or who have yet to publish a book. Writers interested in submitting work should see our guidelines.
I never thought to put coins on your eyes,
shroud the mirrors in black,
freeze the hands on the clocks—
as if death were a ticket to your destination,
as if a reflection could capture your soul
or your time were not already stopped.
If you could live again somewhere, somehow,
I’d encase every mirror in concrete,
pound every timepiece to dust.
But nothing invented can soften the fall
of the body’s hard smash against earth,
extinguishing even the darkness.
Not only your sudden sorting of papers,
additional meetings with family,
replaying of programs that stirred you,
but all you held back from me near the end.
The book you ordered on “crossing over,”
delivered days after your death.
The poem “Epitaph” you saved,
and the comment you wrote underneath:
Feeling done here, wonder if prepping for “transfer.”
That you knew me so well:
knew my view that death is total erasure,
knew that speaking of yours would undo me.
That you bought us the gift
of those last peaceful weeks,
an awareness unshared
as your body closed down.
The Tortoise and the Hare
If life is a race against time,
you were the tortoise, I was the hare.
You, patiently holding a door
while I dodged through the crowd.
I, tacking so fast and so far
I could no longer find you
when I looked back.
I, forever impulsive and quick to react,
fast-flowing with words.
You, stumbling over the rocks
but deep as a slow-moving river.
Always, always, I rabbit ahead.
But you crossed the finish line first.
Field of Grass
In the dream
we are running away, you and I,
beating our way
through a field of long grass.
You ahead of me, just out of sight:
Wait! I call, breathless. Where are you?
Right here, you call back.
Me: Where is ‘here’?
There needs no ghost, my lord,
come from the grave
to tell me the meaning of this.
More opaque is the field itself:
grass thick and shining as hair
curved into Victory roll whorls
we pushed out of our way
that springs back in our wake.
Something to do with recovery, I think,
after a season of setback or crisis.
The resilience my sister describes
as “waking up happy again”
passed down to us by our father.
A zest that grows back over time
like the arm of a starfish,
the greening around a dead tree.
Sharon Whitehill, 84, is a retired professor of English living in Port Charlotte, Florida. She began writing poetry after retiring from Grand Valley State University in Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Cerasus Magazine (UK), Prairie Fire (Canada) and most recently Last Stanza Poetry Journal. She has also published two scholarly biographies, the first of which, The Life and Work of Mary O’Hara, Author of My Friend Flicka, led to Flicka’s Friend: the Biography of a Biography, one of her two memoirs.