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Studies in Mortality 
He decided he would die and then
drove through mortality,

a motorcyclist in heavy traffic. He
was afraid for his dog, which he had

loved and abused. The neighbor said no
to taking it, but he died anyway and

the dog—no one knows. Cigarette butts
and dogshit left in the litter of his lawn.


She was afraid she would die, as though
it were hypothetical, but of course
she would die. That inevitability

functioned as an ointment on a rash. The
unblemished skin of her sensibility: she

she decided, she was not afraid she

would die. She adopted the
end as a form of rationality.


He died a long time ago now, so it is
surprising that his death feels still so

sharp. In the months before his death, he told his
friend “not to fuck it up.” Advice

whose pronoun lingers ambiguously. Who
was talking to whom. And only over the

phone could one hear his southern accent,
death being about distance, another geography. He

romanticized his determination not to
romanticize his fast-approaching death. Not

to fuck it up. What it means to die when
everyone is dying and everyone who is

dying is dying of the virus. His mother said
he drove her crazy, the way he died,

maddening, not in fear exactly, but
anxiety about the details. How

he checked in to a hospice, but then
changed his mind, got on a bus

and went back to where he’d lived,
as though he’d had a home and wanted

to die at home.


They loved each other and then they
made a child together and so it seemed

that all was seamless and they had nothing
to fear. But then their son became sick

and they feared his death more than
their own. He died anyway, in a halo

of dread, in his unfinishedness. He died.
And they feared the next thing, and the

next. They feared the anniversary of
his birth, but even more the anniversary

of his death, which proved all that they
most feared: that what they made with

their love didn’t last. That he was


She was very old. Her step was
light and deft. She never

said she was afraid to die. She never
mentioned dying. But she was

afraid of betrayal. Her son who
stole from her. Her friends who

died and left her behind. Her
memory that crept away in

malice from her still-supple
body. Until all the lack that she

feared was all that was left. Betrayed
by her own mind, the trace

of her that remained. That distinct
laugh she had. The irony she clung

to: she remembered that she had


He would use a different
word than “fear.” More like

“apprehension,” a word
that can signify unease

or gaining a grasp on
the matter. For him,

to be afraid is almost
a physical grace, a body

declining softly into its


She is afraid that others will have to
clean up after her. She is afraid

they will not retain what she wants them
to retain. She is afraid her children

will continue fighting after she has
died. She is constantly afraid

of becoming incontinent. She is
afraid that if she falls down, she

will not be able to get back up. With
a friend who is similarly

afraid, she practices lowering
herself to the floor. They

try and try to find ways to stand
back up.


Now, she is different. She is
afraid only that, having

made the decision, having
“done a dry run for my death,”

she will not die efficiently. “Help,”
she says vigorously, “Help. Help.

Help. Help.” And even a stranger
knows that she is asking for

help in getting it done.


He once was she, and the world
often forced him back to the state

that obtained before
the death of that she.

It scared him when he was
called by her name, his “deadname.” The

name of a person who is dead but
whom the DMV, the clinic, the

police can conjure back into
existence, how she could kill

him over and over in legal
technicalities. Frightening

when no death suffices, when

every witness concurs: there’s
been no death, no death at all.


First he says he is not ill,
and then not very ill, and
then that he will not die.

Anger is suspiciously
like fear. As is defiance.

But as he dies, it is as though
he is wandering a strange

room, considering it from different
angles, and at the end, sadness

instead of fear. Sadness and,
yes, some anger, but only

at the memory of the dog
he was forced to leave

behind in that room, that
hotel room, the dog waiting

as he left, always that
presence alert behind the door,

as he walked away into homelessness.


He believes he is not afraid
to die. He has been very ill

at times: it was interesting
how easy it was to be ill,

to feel living as irrelevant. But
he is afraid for those he

would leave behind, the ones
he feels responsible for. And isn’t

this the animating delusion of
the world? That one is

necessary to the world? He
doesn’t want to consider

that what he holds as
duty, perhaps virtue, would

more accurately be
named as fear.


What did she fear more? Her death or
her own rage? Muddy whirlpool of

control stirring loss of control. What did
she fear that she loved or hated? How long

is a text message if continuously written over
the course of a single frenzied hour? How

long is the walk after she’s jumped
from the moving car, cursing her spouse

and her family? What is so frightening
about being wrong? Was she never wrong?

And who will ever know? How did she
die? In her fear, she left before

she could tell us. All
that we will never know.


Not long before he died, it was his
birthday. Mute—mostly mute—by then,

he nonetheless said, “That’s
so good” as he savored
a piece of chocolate. To neither

know nor fear that death is
impending. To be assuaged,

actually comforted, that death
is not pertinent. To rest

with the sweet in his mouth,
while his daughters looked

on in panic at his endless


Elizabeth Robinson is the author of the forthcoming poetry collection Being Modernists Together (Solid Objects) and Thirst & Surfeit (Threadsuns Press).