What the Slow Process of Death Taught Me about Being Human

- Prologue -

I fight off sleep at 3:30 in the morning,

Nineteen hours straight-counting.

The goal is 24-hour support.

No, really. I’m fine. I’m not tired.

Black swirling circles cloud my iris,

they swell into chronic nausea.

Really, I’m not tired

of holding your hand at 3:30

of every morning after that.

At 7:30, my count is broken.

I check my phone. Unmoved,

You must have given up too.

The goal was 24-hour support:

We both failed.


Run, you say? I get up and run.

Just keep running, you say, don’t ask questions:

save your breath, you wink at me, for later.

I shake my head and rub holes into my eyes.

Fine, I’ll save it.

I’d learned you don’t need breath

while holding hands.

You taught me that. You must have forgotten.

Hours fade in the dust of our sneakers.

You said, run.I’m running:

The goal is 24-hour support.

At the final chime, I look around —

only blinding fog and silence.

I can’t stop running:

Catch up or slow down.

I remember feeling my fingers break like twigs

inside your freezing palms,

and slip away. It was a while back.

I might have lost you.

Your flashlight blinks twice in the back of my head:

· · · – – – · · ·      · · · – – – · · ·

There’s a funeral across the street —

that’s what happens when you live near a church.

They carry a brightly polished casket inside.

The goal is 24-hour support.

I’m not superstitious. The hearse is not a sign.

I’ve turned back before.

– 2 –

I forbid it.

There is no room for you right now;

I have it on good authority that both hell and hospitals are quite full.

You’ll have to stick around.

Yes, I know your heart races to the finish line

covered in laurels

but like a child

left home from his parents’ trip,

they won’t take you now —

No sleep. No food. No sound.

You climb into the trunk of the car.

There’s no air in there either. Is that the point?

Listen to me. Listen to me.

Open your eyes.

Will I have to get into that trunk with you?

I never wanted to go that way.

I know you never asked me to.

But you know what? You did,

you did when you called me for help

silently, with a flashlight in the fog

and you held on tight because I told you to.

The car will stop eventually like all cars do,

and if I make it, you’ll have to get out.

I can’t drag dead weight with broken arms.

– 3 –

Not a fan of your silences,

constant sullen surprises;

I refuse to adapt.

I’m uncertain I have the right to be stubborn,

not this time, but dare I say

I’m tired?

Maybe if I whisper it to myself really quietly

it doesn’t count —

I refuse to be a traitor. I refuse to speak first.

Not a fan of your words either, of late.

Well, mostly today, but there’s that other day too,

and the one before. Every day is an exception

I must accept.

Every day we take the long trip home.

I pack and carry increasingly worn-out suitcases;

we always come back.

But not quite the same, never quite the same,

returning from exile toward harsher punishment

I am running out of words, out of my mind.

And now between the two of us

remains one drying pen and not enough paper.

Maybe we won’t need them.

Maybe that’s not the worst ending.

Emma Moghabghab

Emma Moghabghab is a Composition and Rhetoric Instructor as well as the Coordinator of the Writing Center at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon. Her research focuses on interdisciplinary analyses of the visual arts and literature, the intersections between media and literary theory, mediation, and the networks of power in poststructuralist literature. Her academic work has appeared in Studies in the Humanities and her poetry is forthcoming in Poetry Pacific.  Her paintings have been exhibited at the UNESCO palace in Beirut.

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