Unconditional Death Is a Good Title



Yellow tree, via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under CC0 4.0.


vladimir nabokov said:

i confess i do not believe in time
in BEING AND TIME, poor heidegger
didn’t finish the time part in time
to publish it with the being part
so everything-now must be not-being
there is a pine needle stuck in the screen
the side nearest me must be the being side
the one further away’s the time side
nabokov only said the first line
even when you have nothing to do
there’s not enough time in the day

there are 5 stinkbugs on the back porch—the stinkbugs don’t make you feel good or likable. but the one beautiful tree we have that i can see is still fulsome. in years past it’s always been the best & most long-lasting foliage tree & now, even in this year of all the leaves blown down & drabness, as i see it, it’s a glorious tree between the locusts, acting as if there’s not a stinkbug around.

if i’m so smart how come i don’t have another typewriter? i’d like to know what the word indexicality means too.

this will be a little test to see if expressive(?) writing is a cure for the malaise of the coronavirus. well it doesn’t cure the pain in my left knee, there is something wrong with my stomach which is nerves. walking home from church, the daily news magazine had elvis presley who r & i were forbidden to listen to on the cover. when i got home i found out that my father had died, i was 12. the local parish priest was there, did he come on to me? do you want to see him (my father)? I said no. he’d died in the bathroom. he’d been home from work with muscle spasms, at least that’s what i was told. then i got my period for the first time. my mother already had breast cancer & had lost a breast. my homelife was a nightmare, later my uncle took us out to buy us records. i felt that this was a very weird idea, replacing my father with an LP? i helped pick out what my father would wear in his coffin, opting for the pink tie & gray suit, i felt that the grimness we felt need not be communicated. in my childhood i spent some time trying to comprehend what was happening. i’d lie on the bed, tracing the patterns of the bedspread’s design, never succeeding. i needed assistance. i became a very serious person.

june 21, oh oh 2020 it’s fuckin father’s day, a free ice cream cone from moxie’s, hot as hell climate change heat, coronavirus time, trump had a rally in tulsa, we saw a mink in the backyard, also a jackrabbit, today annabel will come, hard to believe anybody will come, the birds nesting on the back porch, entering through the screens are, according to phil via sibley’s, house wrens! perhaps it came from the other porch, a worm-eater, if you will; we also have warblers, sweet singers all. here a spider eating a caterpillar, a good meal for both dad & grads.


i’m bored to tears, the weather is warm. i’ve moved my operation off the porch; it was a cold day, it’s sort of raining, we saw a brilliantly red tree in rayville, everything on my piles falls down into hades, i’d better empty out hell & use it as a storage bin so i have room to type. there’s stinkbugs everywhere. tonight we’ll to an ashbery memorial. to know where everything is to be at last alone. but who wants that? a scintillating set-to, or a being-here, or a being-here. not growing old gracefully, i’ve chosen to grow old awkwardly, like a teenager. i don’t want anyone to know i’m here. it’s dark & unsavory where i go but i never go, i never went, through the window headfirst, imminent somersaulting by the door, i can’t hear you, i need an ear-horn. i’m a katydid in distress.

july 2, memory is running, that’s the only july i remember, i mean that July is the only, are the only things i remember, don’t have time for more, i mean room, red sorrel, popover, joel schumacher, time is a room, you could say time was anything; about MEMORY, stop time is a curtain blowing in the wind, i remember what’s in the pictures but not what’s in the words, the words could be any words, maybe i should’ve memorized memory.


now the leaves are rushing off the yellow tree, yeller gal, yeller gal, flashing through the night, summer storms will pass you, unless the lightning’s white. but that was an airplane. my favorite thing to do is to watch a volcano erupt or see the northern lights. i’d like to have seen the nazca lines & everything in asia, i’d like to have gone to madagascar, i’d like to go to the botanical gardens in lesotho. i’d like to see the glass flowers in boston & i may yet. if we’re going to skip seasons, let’s have it be spring, 60°, perpetual like periwinkles. there’s no reason it couldn’t be like that here, now, you know? we wouldn’t have to theorize about why. & the deer ticks would be gone. no one would know where they went, but the deer would still be around. there’s a bear around near here; there must be confusion about hibernation.

unconditional death is a good title because it’s almost completely meaningless, yes? i wrapped the green tomatoes in newspaper, rolled up the lovage in wet paper towels, mailed peggy’s postcard, didn’t see the bear, emptied the skink, read rebecca solnit, said to the greens “would anybody like to go to gethsemane hill with me? i have to atone for my sins.” thought about ball lightning, thought that it’s friday & about the s&s brewery in nassau. when there’s a frost, do the poison plants die?


after my parents died i was adopted by jeanne moreau & henry david thoreau, two assiniboine indians who taught me what really happened in history. it was good at last to know & speak my own language. when lewis’s mother went to hunter high school, they made her take a class to get rid of her yiddish accent. who decides you shouldn’t have one?

i dreamt i was a pinnacle of coral.

the thought of what america would be like if the classics had a wide circulation, the thought of what america blah blah, bitter america, it’s the beginning of 70 degree days ending in rain, a lot of people would die of the virus quoting herodotus or maybe sappho, the greek anthology. americans are a bit anti-intellectual. even politicians don’t quote poetry anymore, though obama was a reader.

the idea that writing is easy comes from the frank o’hara method. but it is in fact easy, especially if you don’t try to say more than you are thinking, to say other than what you’re thinking, for instance you might be trying to say what somebody else is thinking, like barthes or lacan. slowly does the middle tree turn yellow, always having been the most interesting fall tree, it is somewhat damaged with dead parts you can see from the field, it’s the tree whose branch snapped off & hung there threatening our (covid) social life till when it fell. now threatening is cold weather, can’t sit outdoors, our plan is to borrow a tent from grace, & in it use our mr. heater buddy, little buddy, maybe it will work

today’s monday august 31, oh fuck, though the sun is out, it’s foreboding, don’t think about it, thinking about the future’s outlawed esp. if you’re 75 & human, we sat in the sun with alyssa & finally everyone, in the field before us a horse, a bit skittish, the kids took no notice, surprisingly, it was an odd sight to be sure.

maybe it’s just fear of the winter, this is a day supposed to be sunny but what is this white sky? seen some yellow & orange trees, the sky is white: western wildfires, we’re having a drought.

so many leaves are falling,
it’s exhausting



These entries are adapted from Milkweed Smithereens, which will be published by New Directions in November 2022.

Bernadette Mayer was born in Brooklyn in 1945, and published her first book, Story, in 1968. From 1980 to 1984, she was the director of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.