Wednesday, March 7, 2012


artwork: ralph murre

My Mortality
by Karl Elder

I see where the mean (meaning average)
American adult sits ten years
in front of a TV set. I subtract
from the remainder a pack-a-day
habit, a quarter-century of sleep,
several months more for drunkenness,
and figure I’d better make this quick:

Like a cricket, the refrigerator
motor’s fan belt has sung off and on
way into dawn. My thought, which now—if it
chose—might focus upon the light, is
frozen instead on how wrong (or right all
along) has been the theory of my
own mortality. I sniffle and

pout. I wring a dry Kleenex out. I learn
a drop of sorrow cannot quench grief’s
thirst; it’s merely the mind’s means of bleeding
to cleanse the wound, reminding me of
the worst: the hurt’s solely self-inflicted.
But I’m still alive. This being that is
perception fusing memory to

the moment: “It’s my life,” the song says; I
own it, but I can’t quite con the heart
into it—a notion of dominion
as crazy as erecting a flag
in a river—splash—and for an instant
(a flash of insight sweeping me with
the current) I watch an imagined,

mute, and evaporating reflection
progressively reveal the real me,
a fine residue of brine remaining.
It hits me where I live: my life’s not
mine, but in earth’s bloodstream a soluble
clot. So I feed me another line—
“Art’s immortality’s only means”—

and stand at the vanity, my Pentax
in hand. I nearly trip the shutter,
but it dawns on me that such a portrait
is only an inverted version.
What about reality? Would the old
masters use pairs of mirrors? I give
up. I render myself in the one

mode I claim to know; I write of Washoe
the chimp, her use of Ameslan to
name herself in the glass. (And I once felt
since Man alone spoke to integrate
thought, we were in fact more angel than ape!)
There; I’ve got it. Perfect! Now—how to
preserve it? Ink will fade, the paper

dissolve; even stone disappears in the
end—there’s no vacuum secure enough
to endure The Great Duration. Yet—
though not the parts, their sum might still be
seen—unobstructed light, a spark touched to
the future’s taut and unending fuse.
I dream, having ignited that beam.

~ first published in Mississippi Valley Review
and subsequently in The Celibate (Prickly Pear Press)