Pictures of the Afterlife

Pictures of the Afterlife by Jude NutterPoems by Jude Nutter

Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2002, Winner of the Irish Listowel Prize

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selections from this collection


In the distance Watch Tor, Yes Tor, Devil’s Chair.
That press of sky. A few rooks slipping over.
In the ditch, a sprung reed flashing. Your car on its roof
just yards from the river beneath the still oaks,
and the firemen working in their shirt-sleeves
to release you. You call me from the hospital,
your voice clearer than I remember, to tell me
you’d understood something sexual in that great solitude,
in the subdued efficiency of voices and the steam
from bodies and the mist off the river gathering together,
a thorough glow inside the water turning under
and under; understood how the blush of sound I make
when I come, my mouth open around the moist, sudden
alarm of the body, is like the voltage of that moment
when light knifes into water just so. When they eased
you out, how you missed, instantly, the poise
of entrapment, your body on the stretcher uncrimping
and suddenly unfaithful in ways you’d never imagined.

That night something inside you turns deftly, like a blade,
edgewise to the light, and I arrive to find your body
slipping gracefully through after it, the dull susurrus
of machinery assuming what you had always done honestly
for yourself. Then, knowing how sex tormented you
with happiness and to convince you that the body knows,
even at the end, what it’s good for, I lie down
beside you under the sheets and touch you to hardness.
All night I sleep through your settled, precise silence
and wake early, in darkness, to the oblique, high
clamour of a siren, then crows chattering
their blue light through the world. You will not survive.
You will become a darkness which holds but keeps on
opening. And I will appall all my lovers
by believing wholly in those for whom the world falls

away and is not bribed back. In my hands that cup of bone,
that lost house, the curve of your head for the last time;
and, as if they knew, the nurses coming in to wash you.

by Jude Nutter

Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First published in Alaska Quarterly Review 17.1-2. Fall/Winter (1998).

The Soul Exploring the Recesses of the Grave

Etching by Louis Schiavonetti, after William Blake

And so the soul, with a single candle, slips
timidly in where it does not belong, dressed

in a thin shift, without shoes. And why
should it not be curious about the fate

belonging to the body alone. We are not told
that the soul is timid; we are taught that it rises

at the slightest chance,
letting its pedestrian companion go, happily

and with purpose. But how could it not be timid,
faced with its own existence forever.

I think the soul would gladly relinquish
the burden of its immortality

and sit down, here in the one home the body
can afford, pull that thin shift over its knees and wait

in the light of that single candle, diminutive lamp
of the mortal world. We are not told

that the soul is faithful, but why else
would it be found here, trespassing in the ruins.

by Jude Nutter

Copyright Jude Nutter. All rights reserved. First published in Pictures of the Afterlife. Salmon Poetry, Ireland, 2002.