Antidotes to Fear of Death

The following poem was written by Rebecca Elson, young astrophysicist studying the first images from the Hubble telescope, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of 29. She was not yet forty when she “returned her atoms to the universe” (Maria Popova in Brain Pickings). My friend who just died had a fascination with her relationship to the universe, often referring to herself as “stardust” and captivated with the cosmology of Brian Swimme (The Universe is a Green Dragon.) I thought of her as I read this poem; we have laid on our backs before “eating stars.”

Antidotes to the Fear of Death

Sometimes as an antidote To fear of death, I eat the stars

Those nights, lying on my back, I suck them from the quenching dark Til they are all, all inside me, Pepper hot and sharp.

Sometimes, instead, I stir myself into a universe still young, Still warm as blood:

No outer space, just space, the light of all the not yet stars Drifting like a bright mist, And all of us, and everything Already there but unconstrained by form.

And sometimes it’s enough To lie down here on earth Beside our long ancestral bones:

To walk across the cobble fields Of our discarded skulls, Each like a treasure, like a chrysalis, Thinking: whatever left these husks Flew off on bright wings.

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