Transformations: Poem

I hope it is an honorable death

Wed, 02/27/2019 - 11:15am

    I hope it is an honorable death.

    (To David Buckel, civil rights attorney, environmental advocate, and manager of the Red Hook Community Farm compost site. At dawn on April 14, 2018, in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, he ended his life by self-immolation to call attention to pollution and global warming.)


    My neighbors are tidying their garden for spring. 

    Their fire pit holds the residue of autumn—

    spikes of what I guess must have been blue vervain, 

    tall ironweed fractured at its nodes, 

    and moldy Helianthus heads resting

    on a kindling crib of birch twigs and branches 

    felled in last month’s storm.


    We tell stories. 
    We tell stories to make sense of our lives.
    We tell stories to communicate our experience of being alive.
    We tell stories in our own distinct voice. Our own unique rhythm and tonality. 

    Transformations is a weekly story-telling column. The stories are written by community members who are my students.

    From time-to-time we will feature guest writers whom we have invited to contribute to the Transformations series. 

    Our stories are about family, love, loss and good times. We hope to make you laugh and cry. Maybe we will convince you to tell your stories.
    — Kathrin Seitz, editor, and Cheryl Durbas, co-editor

    "Everyone, when they get quiet, when they become desperately honest with themselves, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there." — Henry Miller

    Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at Cheryl Durbas is a freelance personal assistant in the Midcoast area. She can be reached at


    The flames burn the crumpled newspaper to ash. 

    I watch—a little mesmerized—as they ring the twigs and rise

    and carry to the sky what by now is last week’s story— 

    how you set yourself on fire,

    admitting this was nothing new, 

    your early death by fossil fuel,

    just another morning’s heap of unrequited love.


    My throat burns with smoke.

    I find myself imagining how it might have happened—

    like all those other happenings I keep alive but can’t accept—

    how you rose in darkness, made your way, sent your final messages,

    then soaked yourself with gasoline and struck the match. 

    Perhaps the distant trees swayed

    against the morning light.


    I’ve read the rest:

    how a human limb burns like a tree branch,

    the skin, like bark, peeling away, exposing 

    the flesh that fuels the flames and how—

    as someone jogging past recounted for the press—

    above the circle of charred grass

    your arms were reaching skyward.


    My eyes sting. My fingers itch with heat.

    Tell me, man of honor, how to justify my life.


    “I hope it is an honorable death” was a finalist in the 2018 Maine Postmark Poetry Contest, and was published in December in Balancing Act 2: An Anthology of Poems by Fifty Maine Women, available from Littoral Books, Portland, and in local bookstores. Laura Bonazzoli is a freelance writer and editor living in Rockport. Her poetry and short stories have been published in Connecticut River Review, Evening Street Review (forthcoming), Free Inquiry, SLANT, Viking Review, and many other publications.