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Life After Death
Olivia L. Williams 

Our heartbeats tend towards
silence, a lifelong decrescendo
of the little machine trapped in
our ribs to stir the current
of our existence. We wind
down like clocks, every tick
a question: “why, how, when?”
Hours marked by inquiry
and years by half-answers, found
in the fabricated narrative of
connection, touch, of the last sip
of lemonade diluted by melting ice
and the music we choose when
we are alone in the kitchen.
Our lives are our greatest
works of fiction, stitched with shaking
hands from the memories we deem
significant. As our thread grows
taut and frayed we fear the conclusion,
seek comfort in meaning and in
story. When the ticking quiets
(what beautiful arrogance to measure
time in heartbeats, when nearly all
existence happens between them),
we cannot see whose hand
will take the thread.
We prepare the words. We leave
outlines and half-polished note
for whoever comes next,
some invoking heaven and some
preferring the quiet reincarnation
of decay. Our epilogues are not
ours to write but we tick inexorably
towards them nonetheless,
fearing nothing so much as an
unkind narrator. We face forwards,
if we are lucky, and back if
we are frightened. Yet even those
busy rewriting their first chapters
fail to notice that they are the latest
in the anthropological anthology—
a new voice in a song sung since there
was such a thing as voice. Beyond even
the faces which came before,
beyond the specter of your once-mother’s
hands on yours as you knead bread
and trace the shapes of clouds for
your lover’s amusement, there is
the story that transcends words.
The iron in your blood knows the
beating of your heart, remembers the sound
from the rabbit’s frantic dance. It has
known many veins, but knows better
the slow pulse of soil and seepage.
We mistake our existence for
narrative when we are a barely-audible
word in the planet’s pause for breath;
we stitch and stitch and mistake
the pile of loose fiber around us for
fine fabrics, convincing ourselves
that our work holds form when it
cannot be distinguished from the
mass of existence. What joy, then,
to abdicate beginning and end, to
take the fragments as they are and relish
color and sound and sweet and sour
without anxiety over epilogue.
Our life exists after death
after death after death after death, and
there will be yet more life
beyond. Feel the vitality pouring
through you like cold water
on its endless way downhill
to the sea—like the rays
of the sinking sun which moves
temporarily beyond our view.
We are not the dancers but only
single footfalls, and we know
our rhythm by heart.

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