The Death Issue

Jacob S. Knabb


One time I had some words tattooed on my forearm to remind myself that I would die. The words were from the first of John Berryman’s "Dream Songs."

The words go like this: 

Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.

I’ve had them there for nearly a decade now and I still read them to myself even though I know them by heart. Particularly when the first bit of autumnal chill seeps into the atmosphere, turning the leaves and shortening the daylight hours. As it is now doing here in Chicago. Fall is my favorite time of the year. It’s the time of dying. The time of Halloween, of Jack the Pumpkin King, of fires and candied apples and introspection, of a quick rush into winter’s bitter frost, of death on the horizon, just off in the distance, not today but soon.

And so I put out a call for stories about death, for writers to tell of it in ways that called to them and I received a wonderful trove of strong submissions. The selection process was very difficult and dragged on for a while as I deliberated. In the end I have chosen these five stories about death. They are dark and nostalgic and cutting and sad and hilarious and absurd. They are five faces of death, five ways of viewing each bed soon to grow empty, each sea-torn shore, each brief moment singing at the top of the sycamore, each echo from that moment that will never grow quiet until it does, silenced forever by the grave, by the plummet into icy waters, by the small gesture we make in that moment, the polite wave. 

And so without further adieu, here they are, five tales of death from five very different writers. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do. I hope they remind you of your own death, that glorious moment due to each of us, inescapable and everlasting.

Jacob S. Knabb