Denise Levertov

During a Son’s Dangerous Illness

You could die before me— 
I’ve known it 
always, the 
dreaded worst, ‘unnatural’ but 
in the play 
of matter, matter and 
growth and 


My sister Philippa died 
twelve years before I was born—
the perfect, laughing firstborn, 
a gift to be cherished as my orphaned mother 
had not been cherished. Suddenly: 
death, a baby 

cold and still. 


Parent, child—death ignores 
protocol, a sweep of its cape brushes 
this one or that one at random 
into the dust, it was
not even looking. 
                           What becomes 
of the past if the future 
snaps off, brittle, 
the present left as a jagged edge 
opening on nothing?


Grief for the menaced world—lost rivers, 
poisoned lakes—all creatures, perhaps, 
to be fireblasted 
                         off the 
whirling cinder we 
loved, but not enough… 
The grief I’d know if I 
lived into 
your unthinkable death 
is a splinter 
of that selfsame grief, 
infinitely smaller but 
the same in kind: 
one stretching the mind’s fibers to touch 
eternal nothingness, 
the other 
tasting, in fear, 
the desolation of