Rachel Zucker
Death Project [poem]

This will help.


Smaller & smaller. Skin looser.

The healthy are afraid to mention, afraid to say what is happening. As soon as you think you know what is happening, you do not know. What is happening?

It is happening to you, afraid it is happening to you.


This will help you.


There is nothing surprising except everything you are feeling. The giving way.

The way everything is predictable but never to you, exactly.


This will help you to arrange, hold, stem, reconstruct words into meaningful predictive protective


The made.

The made way for.

The giving way to.

Words makes you watch.


What? your son says into the dark from bed, You’re saying I will cease to exist? Isn’t there any way to stop this?


be there watch stay wait into the dark or the dim light into the whatever light there is // as the breathing changes (yours the mothers the fathers the grandmothers the other grandmothers the other mother the machine) / stay here / you want to go out screaming into the diminished environment / the way “we” have ruined everything & the we that wants desperately against everything you know is true to be anything other than I //


you need to // stay // stay // here // see what is happening to the diminishing giving way / giving away / words reach / you need words to reach into / where there are no words / “there are no words” /


people always say those words / those words are the words people say /


stay there // stay // in the unmade made room in the still cardiac place / inside the loosening skin / the polar icecaps giving way / the giving way the world warming // the bodies one by one losing heat inside the giving way / for a brief time / he she they / we / treated each other as theirselves / the


polar diminishing animals the vanishing / we were once hearty with a sense of smell touch vision feeling taste future /


That’s it, right? The belief that there will be something that does not warm or cool, a second more of—




After the success & controversy surrounding her Immediate Family photographs Sally Mann decided it was time to stop taking pictures of her three children & move on to something else.


But what? She looked. She waited.


One day, as she stood in the kitchen of her Virginia farmhouse the sheriff called & told her there was an escaped convict on her farm & she had to get out. At that very moment she saw him. Running. Running toward the house. Police running after him as he ran toward the house. He shot. They shot. Police shotgun hit to the hip. The convict turned his pistol on himself.


Later she touched the pool of blood near the convict’s head. It was surprisingly dark, she said. When she touched it, it moved, she said. She saw the ground take a sip.


She began to photograph the place where he died. She began to go to the places nearby where many had died long or short ago & photograph those places using the materials photographers had used during the Civil War.


Then what?


What Remains.


She was given access to a facility in which someone was studying the decomposition of human bodies. A facility in which human bodies were strewn, laid out, in the open. Fly eaten, maggoted, at various stages. Sally Mann made photographs of these bodies, plate after plate.


Then closeup exposures of the children again but not children anymore rather living subjects & similar—like her face but not her face—living, ethereal from the old-timey process. The lens open, open, hold, hold, stay, stay, stay, OK.


Prints made & framed, years of work created & ready when the Pace Gallery in NY canceled the show at the last minute. Who wants to hang photos of dead bodies on their walls? Who would buy these? It is the only time in the film that Sally Mann cries on camera. Not when speaking about the death of her father or her favorite dog or the threats to charge her with child pornography & take her children & her equipment into custody.



I think it [the work] is important, but maybe it isn’t, Sally Mann says. Maybe it’s important but no one wants to see it? she says, wiping her nose.




The inclusion of this information helps you navigate the aboutness of this poem, maybe the whyness. It is a transmission from the poet, a kind of de/composition. The poet is not the you, is no I either.


[ here ] [now] the poet takes this opportunity to say:


This morning standing in the hot shower, hoping heat would enter my body & be trapped there even for an hour, even minutes, knowing it would dissipate, unlike the arsenic mercury BPAs my cells won’t give up—


which is the poem? which is the poet?

how does anything get inside anything else? anyone? how do you get it out?




You’re telling me I will cease to exist? the boy asks.


into the night into you the night pressing you in the dark his breathing catching uneven


Not for a very long time, you say.


but it is a short time // it is no // time // there are rocks & trees & polar icecaps // it is no time at all / it is too short


It will feel like a long, long time, you tell the boy. Maybe you will be ready, you tell the boy.

maybe you will feel ready to give way to let your / muscles give way even your heart to stop / beating let go of / the sense of future // the holding tight to clutching to others the we / clinging / the way the poet clings to the boy the night the voice the words


This will help you die


asserts the poet not sure of anything—



take it take it take this take it

she says


the mark you make in the present // weight of your body // way you press into the present your in out of oxygen carbon nitrogen / the gravity that holds you to this planet / is a clinging to others / even as you repel / the fabric of / the only perceivables are //                                           // this is the meaning of


the music of the room / live musicians / the nurse reading a book into / the room the stranger the doctor the daughter the friend / the gurney down the brightly lit / the home bedroom with hospital bed / the box the plot the visiting hour // the hours // the breath //


what did you think was going to happen? / did you think there was another way of bearing up? / a giving way the giving way to / the suddenly the slowly / the you saying someone else’s pain is worse / is lesser / is a blessing / the you who dreams the gone-away souls back again /


the you who goes on toward your own room bed stranger doctor daughter friend


We has made paintings of this. Paintings of all the stories in the world. And none of all the stories in the world are the stories of what happens next, only the stories of “we in the face of.”


She wrote fact of, but that is the face of it, the fact of it is not faceable. You never can know what it was like for anyone else. You never know birth fear pleasure of anyone else. You have always been alone in the dark with a young boy asking you:


how is this possible?


You have always been alone in a room wanting any small other to ask anything of you which is the only thing that makes you sure you’re you.





hearing a you, the you you are Hasn’t anyone ever tried to stop this? the boy asks. Yes, you say, People try but—

What happens after? he asks.



No one knows, you say.


After all this time? he asks. Really? Really, you say.

And you’re doing nothing about this?


You make a poem called “This Poem Will Help You Die” to hang on the wall for no one to buy. Here, says the poem, Take it, take it in.

Found In Volume 48, No. 03
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  • zucker
Rachel Zucker
About the Author

Rachel Zucker is the author of ten books, including SoundMachine (Wave Books, 2019). Her other books include a memoir, MOTHERs, and a double collection of prose and poetry, The Pedestrians. Her book Museum of Accidents was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell Colony and the Sustainable Arts Foundation, Zucker teaches poetry at New York University.