The Next Life by Mark Wagenaar

Let go of your old life.
The Friday evenings on the patio,
the weddings, first days at schools & offices,
the kids, & now their kids,
& all of the faces you cannot name
who look upon you from their pictures.
Let go of the woman who listened through skin & bone
to your relentless pulse
                                    so she could sleep at last.
Let go, as she lets go, of the body you knew, every inch
of the miles of blood vessels,
the body now stripped of its organs
                                                        like a mine of its copper.
Let go of the hereafter. Of what makes a life.
Let go of our last secrets, little keeper,
like Schubert’s, who asked to be laid down at the end
beside Beethoven. Let go of our ends,
which are beyond us, as Canova showed,
his restless heart at rest in a memorial he cut,
hammer & chisel on stone, for Titian.

Let go of the history you have suffered—
heaped by the thousands in limepainted pits,
a sun blown in each eye. Buried with fourteen horses
on a ship. Buried in a pyramid, buried beneath
the sea, forgotten until the sea becomes desert.
                                                                        Wild fuse,
combustible cloud of our knowing, raised
out of the dust of stars & moths, let go of heaven’s plans,
you who keep us kin to thieves & beasts,
who drives the killer on, who scourges
the astronauts higher.
                                  Let go of the death mask,
the burning feather you will be weighed against,
the billboards this van drives past
(wanted felons, gun shows, Who Killed the Sun Family?),
the windows of suffering & sales pitches
that perch above vacant lots & tangles
of wild sunflowers, in a city only a little north
of where your kin were plucked from bodies
rolled down temple steps.
                                        Let go of the ice-packed cooler
you who rattle us into being like a cicada into song,
like rain against the insomniac’s windows.
                                                                  Cold fist, let go
of the surgeon’s hands beneath the bewildering
galaxy of the OR lights,
& descend through the shattered sternum
                                                                  into a new life
that begins with the whine & sizzle of the defibrillator,
the shudder that wakes you in a web of stitches, when you thrash
like a man drowning,
                                  like a man half-wrapped in flame.
Mark Wagenaar is the 2014 winner of the New Letters Poetry Prize & The Pinch Poetry Award. This past summer he served as the University of Mississippi’s 2014 Summer Poet in Residence. His debut manuscript, Voodoo Inverso, was the 2012 winner of the University of Wisconsin Press’ Felix Pollak Prize, & his second manuscript, “The Body Distances,” was first runner-up in Tupelo Press’ Dorset Prize. Recent acceptances or publications include the New Yorker, Field, the Chattahoochee Review, Washington Square, Shenandoah, & the Laurel Review. He and his wife, poet Chelsea Wagenaar, are doctoral fellows at the University of North Texas in Denton. He’s on Twitter @MarkGWagenaar.