Death poem

Nassau Tokusho died on the 20th day of the second month in 1387. As he was dying he spoke the same words over and over:

“Look straight ahead. What’s there? If you see it as it is, you will never err.”

While dying in 762 Li Po wrote:

“Lost in wine, I did not notice dusk descending
Petals dropped and piled on my robe
Drunk, I rise and walk the moon lit valley
The birds have gone, and people too are few”

Moriya Senan died in 1832, but before he did he left his death poem:

“Bury me when I die
beneath a wine barrel
in a tavern
With luck
the cask will leak”

In Japan, there exists a long tradition of writing a jisei, or death poem. Often written in the last moments of life, they can encapsulate the author’s attitude towards death and in this way life.

Only a few days before his death, I was sitting near my dad in the sunroom of our family home. He spent long hours in that last week just sitting in his chair, watching what was beyond the window. There was a gentle flow of family moving through this time in the sunroom sharing a steady stream of stories, laughter and tears.

One afternoon I found myself alone in silence with dad, both of us present to what was beyond the window. I sat on the floor near his slippered swollen feet in what I knew to be a last shared moment. He had heard his death song loudly in these last days and I could hear him hum its melody now. Although I told myself in the days surrounding his death that every moment was sacred, when dad moved his hand to my arm, I felt his deep intention.

He held my arm and this moment for us and looked over his glasses, milky eyes momentarily here, looking to me.

“Yes, dad”, my voice felt small, his reply was slow.

“…don’t fight with your brother… it upsets your mother…”

“OK, dad… I won’t”

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