When I am dying I will breathe in triplets
Until I don’t.
I will die on the third beat
and then there will be a long rest
while a sweet-faced nurse turns off my machine
and consoles my visitors.
If my dog is there, I hope they let him curl
into the crook of my knees as I lie on my side.
Just like at home.
I hope it will comfort him,
and I hope he pulls off
a deep, mournful wail when I stop.
I suppose I may be home,
but I see myself in a hospital room
with butter yellow walls
and dust motes dancing in the air.
Rhythmic hiss of respirator,
keeping good time for a machine designed by a white guy.
I would like to avoid agonal breathing
and also shitting myself or extended choking.
These are not crowd-pleasers.
I would like to be given Soldiers’ Joy,
so my hands will be on top of the sheets, calm.
If I can, I will sit bolt upright in the bed,
and stare at the ceiling tiles,
with an ecstatic expression on my face,
eyes wide and serene, surprised mouth, O.
Might as well give people something to talk about.
And a little hope.
I would like my dog at my funeral, please.
Silver-framed if he is not permitted in person.
He drinks in triplets, messy like last breaths,
until he doesn’t.
He will whine and pace, I think,
and he will mourn me more than some others.
A poet asked me if I had seen people die, which got me thinking about how people die in hospitals. This poem is what came out of that exchange. I began thinking how I might arrange my own death if I were conscious and hospitalized, picking and choosing from deaths I had seen. I once had a lovely Newfoundland with impeccable manners (she would “lie down” but not “lay down,” to one dog sitter’s surprise), whose only piece of gaucherie was that she drank water in triplets, slurping loudly and leaving half of it on the floor. Death in hospitals reminds me of that—as refined as you’re motivated to be, the structure of the place elicits crude and rude behavior.