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Saturday, 12 July 2008

Death should be a woman

Some two or three weeks back I mentioned in a comment that the creative juices were running somewhat dry. Jim suggested that maybe I should try to write on the theme "The French have it right, Death should be a woman" (or words to that effect). He further suggested that self-setting would probably not work. So being a contrary old git, I tried the self-setting first and posted the results last week - some "fragments", as I termed them, on the theme of roses, a subject that would not normally have suggested itself to me. This week, however, I got down to working on Jim's suggestion. I did not know the saying, beyond having heard something like it expressed once by an aunt, and I have to say that as a theme or a title it struck me as weird. Working on it seemed even more so - at first. Later it seemed more natural. Here, for what it is worth, is the result. How it compares with last week's effort, and therefore where it leaves the experiment, I have no idea, except that it is arguably more finished.

Death should be a woman

Hush a bye baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

But death it is
and thoughts of death
that rock the cradles
of all the people
of all ages.

is Death-sickness
which is a kind
of motion sickness.

Like my "dead" aunt
reviving on a slab she thought was ice
in what she thought was Heaven --
and ever after thought
the picture books
had erred, the painters
had it wrong, that
angels have a dress code (long
white gowns and masks, white
rubber boots, no wings),
and ever after knew
that though she was not meant for Hell,
Heaven was too cold
to hold the likes of her.

Her "dummy run"
(as she would have it)
reformed her views
of Heaven, left
her thoughts of death unchanged --
and multiplied her fears.

She kept a pub in Islington
and in the pub
a parrot, dumb
until she'd bellow "Time!"
when it would squawk (enough
to wake the dead):
"Aint you buggers got no homes?"

Ever after her trial run
she'd cover the bird over
before she'd call for time.

The only person (until Jim)
I've ever known
or heard, suggest
that death
should be a woman,
who thought a woman's touch
could ease the pain,
the toothache in the gut.

Or like my dad:
went to church, "high
days and holidays", but sent
us children every week
to church or Sunday school;
saw something - "just
a bit" - of Belsen, after which
he asked to be Confirmed.
The padre came to see us,
to explain
why something so important
was happening out there,
outside the family,
said death had changed dad.
And it had.

I thought his faith would see him through.
But no, the last ride was
white knuckles to the end.

Perhaps if not a woman,
death should at least
be feminine.


Lucy said...

Your childhood seems to contain much fascinating chiarascuro and slightly disturbing detail! This is a fine and very committed response to Jim's prompt.

Remember, though, the gender belongs to the word, not the thing. I wasn't aware that there were any particular French representations of death as a woman, though I may be wrong. The Marseilles tarot image is not specifically female.

Contrary old gits rock!

Jim Murdoch said...

Well I never imagined my prompt would result in a piece like this but that was the whole point, to see what you'd make of it. And very creative it was too. The prompt for the prompt was very simple really. I've never got how the French language – amongst others – assigns gender to objects like chairs and pianos. Who decided that Death was La Mort? Why is Death female? Then, of course, Neil Gaiman came along with his iconic portrayal of Death as a skinny goth chic and it was such a perfect image. There's a lot of good stuff in this poem, Dave, and I got a name check. I think I love the parrot best though.

hope said...

I didn't know if you were going to go with death as a woman "smothering" men or gently easing someone on to their next journey. Good job!

And I have to admit, I loved the parrot best too. :)

Dave King said...

I couldn't make up my mind which I preferred!

I grew up with the story. The parrot endeared it to me.

Rachel Fox said...

I like the angels with 'white rubber boots/no wings'.

Unknown said...

Isn't it fascinating where inspiration takes us? This is a great poem that takes us round the houses.

The French aspect had me thinking of A Tale of Two Cities and all those women knitting around the guillotine as the heads rolled.

Dave King said...

I don't know how it happened, but it seems I missed your comment and Jim's and went straight to Hope's. most humble apologies - a senior moment, obviously. I guess you are right about my childhood, though it has never seemed that way to me: I grew up thinking that, apart from a lot of ill health (and maybe living with my grandparents), it was just like any other child's.

It just didn't dawn on me that Jim's prompt was related to the gender of words. It should have, but it didn't. I took it to refer to some obscure quote or saying. Had I realised it, though, I would probably have ignored it and done exactly as I did.

Dave King said...

As above (Lucy), my sincere apologies for missing you. Also, at risk of repeating myself, to explain that it just didn't occur to me that your prompt was related to death being La Mort - all that missed education, I guess. My thanks for the prompt and for your kind comments. I guess the parrot is becoming everyone's favourite!

Dave King said...


So glad there's at least one vote for the angel! Thanks.

Dave King said...


Thanks for that. Great thought, the women round the guillotine. If I'd thought of it I would probably have used it.

Jena Isle said...

That's a different point of view. In the same manner that I ask the question. In our country, why are storms named after women? They should be named men as men are stronger. Just thinking out loud.

But about death being at least feminine, would be worth considering.

Anonymous said...

Some great lines here.

Anonymous said...


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