How To Write Your Own Obituary

First find a good recording of Bruckner's Symphony IX,
and start it playing. Then sit down at your typewriter
or word processor. If there's too much hiss
in the recording, get up and reduce the treble.
Then sit down again. Take a blank sheet of paper
and stare at it for a while as the music
washes over you. Somewhere in all that whiteness
are the words you are seeking, the words
that are seeking you.

When you've finished your first paragraph, sit back for a bit.
Look around you. Look at the late afternoon sunshine
casting its zebra pattern on the wall to your left.
By now the symphony should be well into the scherzo, so
you can lighten up a bit. Smile. Look at your
grandfather's watch lying on the calendar page for today--
18 Monday  Martin Luther King's Birthday (Observed).
You well might wonder where both of them are now.

Imagine this room you're in without you in it. Then, go
a step farther, and imagine someone, maybe even
a stranger, rummaging among your books and papers, even
popping a floppy into your machine and accessing
files at random. Imagine a stranger checking out your
unpaid bills, the letters you forgot to open. No joke, now.
The scherzo is over, and we're already into the doom-
laden finale. Imagine all the things you've just unpacked
going back into boxes. Imagine them wondering why you
ever kept this or kept that. Keep writing, keep
writing. This is your life we're dealing with here.
This is your last chance to get it down right.
Listen to the music--the horns and strings--making
one last stab at something beautiful before the end.
Look out the window at that fading light. Look
at the cat. All that it wants is your hands on it.
Keep writing, just as though there were one more
movement after this one.

Halvard Johnson


If you've any comments on this poem, Halvard Johnson would be pleased to hear from you.