Eight Epitaphs

Joshua Leach


I was the town cynic whose life was choked out

By a hidden disease of the heart

That I knew was there in my chest

But never told.

And I carried it around with me

And quoted verses to the people I met

About the vanity and absurdity of it all

And made them weep.

If only they could have seen

That beneath my arch smile

And the glint that came into my eyes of wicked humor

When they tried to soothe their own terrors

I clung to life.

I loved it, I daresay, far more than they

Who whispered to themselves comforting nothings

Because I alone knew what it is to live

A heartbeat away from annihilation.


I was the lonely soul

Who poured out her life to work for the benefit of uncounted millions

And didn't go out or turn off the reading lamp

Long enough to get a drink with friends or learn what people were talking about when they talked about things in the news.

And I thought that somehow if I read enough or

Helped enough souls

To live a little bit longer

It would open to me some truth.

But I never found it

And those I helped to go on living

With a modicum of comfort and dignity

Never opened my eyes, or revealed to me

Why any of us is here at all.

They all thought I had some answer

That plainly eluded them

And that by yoga and yogurt and Chopra

And bland flavorless meals stripped of any of the things

Human beings like to eat

I no longer feared death.

But none of them was with me in the final moment

When the great vastness of time unfolded itself before me

And I clung with terror to the bedsheets.

I might as well have eaten more sugar.


I had not really read those Holy Books and Scriptures

To which I always referred the sick souls and the dying

And the lonely people thinking about the point of it all.

Not since seminary, at any rate.

But when my own time came I assumed

They would bring the comfort to me I had promised from their pages to others.

But when I opened them in the last moments

I could not find myself or my world in the furious drops

Of flaming rage dribbling from the lips of the prophets and martyrs.

And the only people in the book

Who evoked my sympathy

Were the ones whom the great cosmic powers seemed to scorn:

Judas, and Cain, and the woman who pitied the Sodomites

And became a pillar of salt for their sake.


In life I spoke with venom about

The empty hopes of the people I saw around me

And what weakling souls they seemed

To delude themselves with false promises.

But when I told them that death

Would come as a sweet empty blackness

Like the state before I was born

And that I would no more fear it than the old Reverend up at the church

Would be ashamed to meet his savior

Was that not a story and a myth

As comforting and baseless in its own way

As that one from ancient Palestine?


I went to school with the prophet and the reverend

And the guru and the faithless

I concluded that they would not find any answers to the questions they asked

They would consume their lives in such vain striving

And never taste the sweet rush of success.

But one time I

Hit an old dog with my car

An old mangy cur whom no one would miss.

And it seemed to ask me a question

That I desperately wished to answer.

And I caught a glimpse of something distant, full of pain

But before I knew it it was gone.

And the questions fell silent.


I was the scorned and the mocked

The butt of sophomoric humor

I had none of the consolations of (sex) or money

And did not possess the Teutonic genius

To explain to myself my plight

Or take comfort from a wry cynicism

Or a learned resignation.

My pains were undigested.

Yet they who pitied me in life never knew

That my life, mocked as it was, was simply asking me a question

And this question was answered by me

To my satisfaction.

And those who still nurse their vanity

And knowledge and cleverness and power

Don't have a clue.


I had always been prepared

To be broken up by life.

I had no expectation

That I deserved better

Than the common human lot.

I didn't think I was entitled

To find my image in the stars

Or to lead nations or write symphonies.

How funny then that I was the one who died

Without pain

Surrounded by people I loved and who loved me

Who cried for me but not from despair

Feeling a great peace and sense of repose.

Isn't that strange?

How others die and face death

And how it seems to them when the lights go out-- I will never know.