Consciousness and Aging

It made me think of Phyllis Gotlieb’s Death’s Head

at 3 a.m. I run my tongue
around my teeth (take in a breath)
(give out a breath) take one more step
approaching death. my teeth are firm
and hard and white (take in a breath)
incisors bite and molars grind
(give out a breath) the body lying
next to mine is sweet and warm
I’ve heard that worms (take in a breath)
don’t really eat (give out a breath)
the coffin meat of human kind
and if they did I wouldn’t mind
that’s what I heard (take in a breath)
(and just in time) I think it’s all
a pack of lies. I know my flesh
will end in slime. the streets are mean
and full thieves. the children in
the sleeping rooms (give out a breath)
walk narrowly upon my heart
the animal beneath the cloth
submerged rises to any bait
of lust or fury, love or hate
(take in a breath) my orbic skull
is eminently frangible
so delicate a shell to keep
my brains from spillage still my breath
goes in and out and nearer death


and yet I seem to get to sleep


Most of Gotlieb’s poetry is free verse. Because of that I’d assumed this was, until a student in my poetry structure class insisted it was iambic tetrametre, and I heard the rhythm of breath, and the uneven gasping at hard awarenesses. Consciousness is difficult and painful.


Joan Vinall-Cox, PhD
JNthWEB Consulting –
Social Media & Learning

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