Literary Hook: ‘Death Slips In’: A poem to ‘savor and enjoy’

Continuing our focus on student writing from The Clearing in Door County, Wisconsin, it is my pleasure to present a poem by Elmae Passineau.

Elmae is a retired principal living in Wausau, Wis. She keeps active by teaching a communications class at her local community college.

During our class time together, I was struck by Elmae’s ability to focus and hold a thought or theme, seeing it to its fruition. She brings to her writing a lifetime of education, philosophy, motherhood and world travels. In addition, I admire the way she mixes the mundane with the profound, which you will see in this poem.

Death Slips In

Death slips in to check me out—

Is she ready?

Has she divested herself of nonessentials?

(What about those Hummels and that

Depression glass?)

Has she withdrawn from social obligations?

(What about book club and dinners with


Has she given up on the human race?

Grown bitter and cynical?

Well, there are war and pillage, of course,

brutality and neglect,

rape and murder,

terror and torture,

greed and waste—

Ah, but there are also Lily and Thomas,

who need me still—

to show them the Milky Way,

to read them “The Little Prince,”

to sing “You Are My Sunshine,”

to bake sugar cookies,

to build clay turtles,

to plant purple pansies,

to ride the Ferris wheel,

to tell them about their great-grandfather—

“Ah,” Death murmurs, “she’s not ready.”

Many of us at “a certain age” can certainly relate to the sentiment of that poem, as no doubt those with lives ahead of them can as well. Savor Elmae’s clarity and her unique ability with words, her interesting use of lists, her clear and delightful images, the juxtaposition of positive and negative. Savor and enjoy!

Christine Swanberg is a local author and poet who has written several books of poetry and formerly wrote a column called “The Writer’s Garret” for this newspaper.

from the July 18-24, 2007, issue

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