The Night Before

The Night Before

Is it the night you decide to save your own life
or whether to save your own life

The night after the three page do-not-resuscitate note
they found on your hotel bed in the morning though you were

found there with it, smoking, complaining, in the room your father
paid for, not wanting to abandon you as the hospital had,

as you feel the whole world had. In your deepest misery
you could not abandon yourself, though your note

claimed death was better than being alive. It is not
the first such note but the first in a while, and

begs the question, why were you both there
this morning when we arrived? You wanted

both to be found. You wanted your death to be found
and your life to be saved without engaging either

of them. On my desk tonight I open
an envelope I have had for three dozen years. It’s  filled

with cancelled stamps from around the world, from places
you and I will never visit. Chad, Posta Romana, Dahomey.

Magyar Posta. Ceskoslovensko, some countries
that no longer exist, no more than the messages

whose freight these stamps once paid. One stamp depicts
only another stamp from thirteen years earlier.

Thirteen years earlier would you have believed
you’d be here, in a hotel you can’t pay for,

To make a decision you think someone else
should make for you. You are more

Than what you have paid in pain to be
transported here. More than a value a black mark can cancel

but you are not something that can be opened and read.
You are the author of the note demanding you not be saved.

You cannot be reached by phone. Or any other method
save a mark on tomorrow you have not yet made.

13 thoughts on “The Night Before

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Thank you, RO. Sometimes you grab what is at hand to make sense of what makes no sense. My daughter was cleaning out a shelf and found my old stamp collection; it was at hand and helped give me an unexpected inroad into this territory.

  1. Sunshine Jansen

    I have little to offer that hasn’t been said by everyone else here, but this is one of the most penetrating and masterful pieces I’ve read here. Stunning.

  2. Jeff Schwaner Post author

    Thank you, SJ. Maybe more a cathartic than artful gesture, so I’m just happy something more than the catharsis came from the composition. I am lucky to have such great visitors to this site.


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