Dying Can Wait

Dying Can Wait is a chap book (a small, bound collection of poetry) published in 2009 by Pudding House Publications, which chooses manuscripts "on the basis of their contribution to literary arts and to the popular culture." Some of the poems in Dying Can Wait also appear in Tender Harvest, but there are many unique poems.




After high school she worked her way up
to head of lingerie.
He was a college kid playing
shoe salesman over Christmas break.
I figure it happened in the stock room
when the two of them stayed to lock up.
They waited for the snow to stop,
sat on boxes between rows of socks, girdles,
davenports and pressure cookers.
She hung on stories about Iowa
(where she had never been),
about college, his plans for med school.
He talked more than usual,
all the while looking down
at her silk-stockinged leg, crossed
and swinging as if to music
only she could hear. They finished
a pint of rum--smell of dusting compound,
alleyway light through icy windows.

I figure when the snow didn't let up
they moved tricycles and Radio Flyer
wagons out of the way
unpacked a mattress,
spread their coats to keep it clean.
He must have fallen into those huge gray eyes.
She was weary of waiting.
Besides, it was Christmas.
The store was festive
with tinsel and evergreen.
From the highest shelf
a row of angels…

Passager Poetry Contest Winner, 2005; Published in Dying Can Wait.

Photo by Linda Whittenberg


A wooden guitar player
on the shelf
holds his instrument
down at the neck
as if it is heavy and he is
weary of standing there
forever, mouth open
his carved hand on the strings
waiting to begin.

If I could I would breathe
life into his stiff arms
set him strumming
reach out my finger like God
and set free every wooden thing.
People would pick up the phone
to call home after all these years
wallpaper the bathroom in flowers
make love on Monday morning.
Puritan preachers would tremble with praise.
I would lead children in dance
set every tight-lipped oboist free at last
to play jazz.

I would raise Van Gogh from the dead
beseech him to
"Paint, Man, paint"
for the world needs grieving
sunflowers and crazed stars.
Dying can wait.
I would tell them what I know,
you have to stifle the scolding
voices of critics
resist the urge to petrify
cut off your ear if you must.
Little man on the shelf
sing that song
your heart has been waiting to sing.