Two texts that inquire into the moment just before death

“If I Only Knew”

a poem by Nelly Sachs, Holocaust survivor  and Nobel laureate

If I only knew

On what your last look rested.

Was it a stone that had drunk

So many last looks that they fell

Blindly upon its blindness?

Or was it earth,

Enough to fill a shoe,

And black already

With so much parting

And with so much killing?

Or was it your last road

That brought you a farewell from all the roads

You had walked?

A puddle, a bit of shining metal,

Perhaps the buckle of your enemy’s belt,

Or some other small augury

Of heaven?

Or did this earth,

Which lets no one depart unloved,

Send you a bird-sign through the air,

Reminding your soul that it quivered

In the torment of its burnt body?

“The ’59 Sound”

a song by The Gaslight Anthem, the greatest presently active band in any genre

Well, I wonder which song they’re gonna play when we go.
I hope it’s something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.
When we float out into the ether, into the Everlasting Arms,
I hope we don’t hear Marley’s chains we forged in life.
’cause the chains I been hearing now for most of my life.

Did you hear the ’59 Sound coming through on Grandmama’s radio?
Did you hear the rattling chains in the hospital walls?
Did you hear the old gospel choir when they came to carry you over?
Did you hear your favorite song one last time?

And I wonder were you scared when the metal hit the glass?
See, I was playing a show down the road
when your spirit left your body.
And they told me on the front lawn.
I’m sorry I couldn’t go,
but I still know the song and the words and her name and the reasons.
And I know ’cause we were kids and we used to hang.

[Chorus]

Young boys, young girls, ain’t supposed to die on a Saturday night.

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3 thoughts on “Two texts that inquire into the moment just before death

  1. What happened to Mumford and Son? Just kidding.

    This is a great song. Mark and I play a good version of it. Let me rephrase. It is a fun song to play with Mark, and it doesn’t sound horrible.

  2. I know; I thought of Mumford and Sons after I made that comment about The Gaslight Anthem. They’re probably tied. It’s hard to really call Mumford and Sons “a great band” at this point, though, since they only have one album out. Let’s see if they can keep it up…

  3. The poem by Nelly Sachs is haunting.

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