It used to be that death
was like a mountain:
far away, worn down, tolerant of the seasons,
majestic if climbed, always there.
The old people, as we secretly called them,
were like those landmarks of the earth:
unchanging, slow to anger or feel passion;
faces barely resembled early pictures of themselves.
Their skin was like our fingers after a bath,
only permanently wrinkled.
They revealed little, were kind to small children;
their faces softened for babies
as if warmed by a stove in a chilly world.
They bore pain with slow movements,
pinched mouths, an inner focus.
The springy legs and arms we took for granted
had been taken from them.
How little I knew of their minds,
behind eyes worn deep from the shock of looking.
Their replies were succinct, as if they had been asked
a question so many times they were sure of the answer.
Memories of old days, yes;
perhaps a lesson or two.
Fatigue put them to sleep
even in a room of people talking.
How did they survive what they had become?
How did they manage their last days,
admonished to eat little, give up childhood foods –
Indian pudding, baked apples, a mess of greens.
Did tears flow behind their stoic eyes
as they approached a mindless existence?
Most of all, did they wonder – as I do now –
how to say goodbye to themselves?