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To an Old Man Dying

(for Lucien)

“I’m coming back as a sea lion,” he said,

“To traverse the seven seas.

I’ll swim from Norway to the Coast of Japan,

Or not, whichever I please.”

“But how will I know you?” she asked, distressed.

“All sea lions look alike.”

“I’ll wear a gold candle that burns on my head,

And eye-glitter green as a pike.”

“I’m coming back as a lichen,” he said.

“To cling to an oak’s northern side.

I’ll contemplate life without saying a word,

And day after day abide.”

“I’m coming back as an osprey,” he said.

“I’ve hit on my ultimate wish.

Where all there’s to do is hang on the wind,

And fly and fuck and fish.”

“If you come back as a lichen,” she said,

“I’ll know which blossom is you.

I’ll scrape you screaming off the soggy bark

And boil you in my stew.

If I find you’ve returned as some ear-piercing bird,

I’ll get out my trusty bow,

And the first time you soar past, you son of a bitch,

An arrow will bring you low.”

“For sharing the ache,” and she grabbed his lapel,

“The choices have narrowed to two.

Either come back as me with a hole in my gut,

Or simply come back as you.”