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Stephen Dobyns: The Miracle of Birth

For Sylvia Lee

Hacking and coughing, slapping at scorch marks
on their otherwise white robes, the souls
of the dead stagger toward the Pearly Gates
as St. Peter tugs his beard to hide a guilty look. 
Oh, how they loved them; how could they ever 
exist without them? So do the souls clamor over
their absent anatomy. Only a cynic would argue 
the souls of the dead ascend with the last gasp 
of breath. Instead, like a faithful hound curled
in the grass by the tomb of its master, the souls 
mean to hang on, sneaking into coffins, hitching 
rides to crematoriums, anything to win a last 
embrace from a dear one. But then the smell begins, 
the fetor of decay, the miasma of putrefaction. 
Press an ear to the bare earth of a fresh grave 
and soon you’ll hear a familiar choking sound. 
A day later a nighttime jogger might spot a geyser 
of marsh gas or will ‘o the wisp, as the gagging
guardian of the recently defunct blasts off toward 
the balmy air of heaven. Even faster is their escape
from crematoriums as eruptions of greasy smoke
racing skyward readily attest. But just as the folks 
at refineries mix methyl mercaptan with odorless 
propane to create the stink of rotten eggs, skunk 
smell, robust farts, so the powers of heaven splatter
a suitable stench on the moldering dead. Otherwise 
a soul might linger until only the chromium balls 
and polyethylene sockets of phony hips remain. 
Thus the nasty smell. Those kids practicing kisses 
or couples fucking in the backseats of a VW bugs, 
are amorous triflers compared to the ardor of the soul 
for its partner. As they joylessly wait for reassignment, 
they dangle their feet into the blue abyss at the brink 
of heaven like boys on a wall bumping their sneakers 
on the bricks below. Isn’t it the soul’s initial distaste
for its next host and its loyalty to the past that leads 
to the mix-up of childhood and tumult of adolescence? 
Such is the miracle of birth as the soul is first thrust 
into a minuscule egg, then cast squawking into the world 
as burgeoning rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.
                                                                                                For S.L.

“The Miracle of Birth” from The Day’s Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech, copyright 2016 by Stephen Dobyns, BOA Editions, Ltd.

3 comments on “Stephen Dobyns: The Miracle of Birth

  1. Rose Mary Boehm
    April 25, 2021


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    April 25, 2021

    Ah, poets come at death so many ways. We can’t let it go. ( btw, great poem. It doesn’t stink!)

    Liked by 1 person

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