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The Afterlife

There's a lot of light in her apartment,
falling on the rented hospital bed.
I've been told the dying like to be held,
so, though we're just friends, I make myself
hold her hand, as if the conversation is final,
mattering more than others, though most have mattered.

She's seen a couple of rabbis, who were helpful.
It seems there are Jewish angels. (Why argue?)
And she likes the story I brought her,
"The Death of Ivan Ilych," how before the end
he learns so much nobody knows about,
except the reader.

"So many faces," she says of the people who came
for the songfest yesterday evening, over a hundred
crowded into this little place. "Each face a flower.
Each face ... " and here she pauses
(the medicines are affecting her word retrieval?)
"so full of memories."

It all makes a strange image in my head:
faces that aren't faces, but wide open,
as if she's discovering that she's lived
everything they haveŚcenturies
more than she thought.

"Our life in others," I remind her,
citing Pasternak, "that is our immortality."
But she knows that doesn't go far enough.

I'm glad she's thinking of her own afterlife,
since not being alive is, apparently, unthinkable
on the brink of it happening, a kind of shallowness
to imagine it's merely like going to sleep,
though lately her dreams have been so vivid:
an all-night argument with her sister about a dog,
over what color it should be, white or black.

Outside the weather appears to be changeable.
I'm dying to go out there, on the small terrace.

"Go out on the terrace," she says, "before you leave.
The view is wonderful."

Alan Feldman

The Southern Review

Autumn 2013

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