Someone is dressing up for death today

Someone (by Dennis O’Driscoll)

someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie
eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea
scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last
shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass
someone today is leaving home on business
saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortege
someone is paring his nails for the last time, a precious moment
someone’s waist will not be marked with elastic in the future
someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come
someone’s fresh breath is about to be taken clean away
someone is writing a cheque that will be rejected as ‘drawer deceased’
someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar
someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast
someone is making rash promises to friends
someone’s coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined
who feels this morning quite as well as ever
someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today’s date
perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament
someone today is seeing the world for the last time
as innocently as he had seen it first

The truth of this poem haunts me. I am an anxious person (have I mentioned this before?) and see the brevity of life on every busy street and crust of bread inhaled too quickly.

I read O’ Driscoll’s poem many years ago in an anthology called The Spaces of Hope: Poetry for our Times and Places

Our times and places.

The book was published in 1998 and it was the banality of death that struck me — putting on deodorant, writing a check…  seemed the most likely way a person like me would spend their final moments. I was no soldier or mountain climber. An unspectacular death for most of us.

Then, an airplane flew into a skyscraper in New York city.

Somebody at a desk was perhaps writing a check, adjusting their tie, thinking about lunch. But, then, they casually glanced out their workplace window, and an airplane was flying towards them. Someone, that morning, packed their suitcase and drove to the airport and maybe didn’t tell their other someone that they loved them. Who knew their plane was not going home or on holiday? That it was going to fly into a skyscraper in New York City?

For all its ubiquitous inevitability, death is so often treated as surprising and unexpected. But some deaths are so unexpected, unpredictable and inconceivable, we can never make sense of them.

In 1998, “for our Times and Places”, didn’t mean what it means now.

The time: 8:46:30am. 9/11.

The place: NYC, the Twin Towers, someone’s workplace, someone’s ordinary.

And what of “The Spaces of Hope”? What does that mean now? In this time and place, after that time and place?

Questions, eleven years later.



9 thoughts on “Someone is dressing up for death today

  1. That poem is such a great choice for 9/11. Even though that poem seems to talk of banalities, that line: ‘someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast’ really struck me. How many of us get anxious about stuff like the weather, checking it – weekly forecasts. But in doing that we are tying ourselves to these banalities. Be free, this poem says to me. Don’t check the weather – if you’re dead it won’t make a difference anyway. I shouldn’t worry that you’re not a soldier or mountain climber – we can all have moments that we are proud of, if we just remember to live. In this time and place that’s all we can do – for those who are no longer able to.
    Thanks for such a wonderful post. I didn’t know what to do with myself this evening, now I do: make the most of the moment!

  2. Deborah, you have just about perfected the art of the sensitive and timely post. This is a very lovely piece, and I’m glad to read the poem too, as I know the poet is a great friend and admirer of Seamus Heaney, one of my new favorites. In fact, I think he wrote a book interviewing Heaney, or something like that. You too are a poet in the way you consider things so serenely and yet with true feeling.

  3. Oh, what a wonderful and timely post. I have a friend who was in the towers both times it was hit, in ’93 and 2001, and got out both times. Thousands weren’t so lucky. I just lost a young man I coached in Little League many years ago, he was thirty-one. He just made up with his cousin the week before and said, “Life is too short to be pissed off.” My favorite line from American History X. You motivated me to finish my experimental essay, “I Died Today in the Middle of a Two-hour Run.”

    • Oh good! Do it Jim!

      I’m fascinated by these stories of people who are in the wrong place on several occasions. One of the victims of the Aurora shooting had survived a separate shooting at a shopping mall, what are the odds? Truth is stranger than fiction they say. I’m glad your friend got out, and I’m sorry to hear about your other friend, he was too young.

      Good luck with your experiment!

  4. Great post, Deborah. Isn’t it funny that we struggle with the only thing that is inevitable in life – it ending? At least I do… Thinking of all those left behind today, that they may find acceptance in the most baffling of circumstances, as well as all those in Islamic countries whose lives have been taken in opportunistic, retaliatory bloodshed.

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