The worst thing about death must be
the first night.
—Juan Ramón Jiménez
Before I opened you, Jiménez, it never occurred to me that day and night would continue to circle each other in the ring of death, but now you have me wondering if there will also be a sun and a moon and will the dead gather to watch them rise and set then repair, each soul alone, to some ghastly equivalent of a bed. Or will the first night be the only night, a darkness for which we have no other name? How feeble our vocabulary in the face of death, How impossible to write it down. This is where language will stop, the horse we have ridden all our lives rearing up at the edge of a dizzying cliff. The word that was in the beginning and the word that was made flesh— those and all the other words will cease. Even now, reading you on this trellised porch, how can I describe a sun that will shine after death? But it is enough to frighten me into paying more attention to the world’s day-moon, to sunlight bright on water or fragmented in a grove of trees, and to look more closely here at these small leaves, these sentinel thorns, whose employment it is to guard the rose.
From Ballistics by Billy Collins. Copyright © 2008 by Billy Collins. Reprinted by arrangement with The Random House Publishing Group.