Do Not Go Gentle

Posted on a Saturday in 2008 at 4:40 pm in Horror.

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“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

My mother’s voice wavered as she began to read the poem aloud; her voice flowed thick from her throat but quick through her lips, slowly filling the room as her lungs found the air and with it strength.

“Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The gathered family stared either down at the carpeted floor or forward towards the plain casket, the polish on the closed lid gleaming under the quiet fluorescents, each lost in their own private reflections.

“Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

It had been my father’s wish this poem would be read at his passing, his favorite. “An affirmation of life,” he always stated, “of striving and doing and lasting and existing.”

“Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.”

She stopped, shuddering as the first few words of the next stanza tumbled confused from her lips, as though she was trying to take them back or deny them their power, her eyes sparkling heavy with leashed tears. She drew a steadying breath and continued again.

“Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

There was a noise, so slight we could not ascertain its source or composition, but enough to distract my mother from her reading. She stopped and glanced with sad curiosity around the room, then returned her gaze to the sheet before her and continued.

“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The quiet fluorescents flickered in brief, dramatic underscore.

My mother lowered her head, hiding the tears now flowing freely from her eyes.

Then there was a thump.

Confusion reigned in eyes and faces, caution and curiosity, hearts slowing or racing but not yet stopping in their chests or skipping their assigned beats. Glances were cast around before the tension drained away, minds quietly calming themselves with explanations of the noise as something mundane: someone’s foot bumping something, a noise from another room.


Hearts stopped, or leapt into throats filling them so they could not give voice or breath, for there was now no mistaking the source of the noise, nor silent justification placing it in some safe and unexamined mental corner…

My mother turned towards the casket, staring wide eyed, mascara ruined, running black down her cheeks. She didn’t move for a long moment. No one did. The lid trembled.

I do not know what thought possessed her in that moment, but she rushed the casket and clawed frantically at the lid, like a starving man trying to free a scrap of food, before finally managing to throw it open and gaze down into its satin depths.

Other family members were standing now, come to their feet on instinct, leaning forward, staring, myself among them. Gasps finally shoved their way past crowding hearts as we witnessed shaking arms thrusting up from the casket, white fingers like claws curled and clutching at the air, my mother now stumbling slowly away like a drunk from a danger the addled mind could not focus upon.

I shoved aside empty folding chairs reserved for mourners who had not come and rushed to her side, taking her shoulders in my steadying hands as though it would protect her, and found myself staring down into the coffin at my father, whose death-pale face drew in a great, deep breath, lungs aching for air. His milky eyes flicked open to stare up at us.

He drew himself up slowly, still staring at us with an unreadable gaze…at her. He gasped in a lungful of air with torturous effort. “You were supposed to read…the poem at my passing…not at my funeral!” he cried out in a horrible, raspy voice, and tumbled himself over the side of the opened casket.

My mother’s eyes were full and large with horror, locked upon my father in an unbreakable hold. Someone tried to give a cliched scream, but it choked and died in their throat, barely a quavering squeak in a room otherwise full only with the harsh, labored breaths of my father, who seemed as though he could not draw air — though he should not have been trying at all!

He lay hunched over himself on the floor, whimpering or whispering something, and I leaned down now to hear, fear holding me back slightly like a protective parent, just before the words came more loudly, more clearly, more agonizingly. The way he spoke, it seemed my father tried to share a meaning with us that his words gave no justice to “…it burns..!” He gasped.

“It burns!” he screamed, rising to his feet, fists shaking against the heavens, and in a stumbling run rushed from the parlor chamber to disappear into the night, his passage marked only by a fading wail.

All other eyes followed his exit, but my mother stared at me, mouth silently agape.

I was the only one who understood, “The embalming fluid. They replace the blood. It must be like fire in his veins.”

Copyright (c)2008 Raven Daegmorgan
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