C.N.P Poetry 

  • Cathexis Northwest Press

Before you begin the embalming

By: P.E. Sloan



This is what it has come to

I pine for the flutter of memory


I light candles for my ancestors and reckon my liver spots

Like rings on a tree-stump, they tally


At his viewing my brother

Lies in ashen rictus, like a pharaoh dressed in a polo


This costume we call reality is missing its sash


He dropped dead for no apparent reason

I wonder if by leaving early he is the happier one


He does not contend with measly mourning

Our kaddish for his chirping spirit somehow does not measure


Like this aging

That creeps on silent cat feet


One day you are running 8 Ks

And that afternoon your leg cramps and your vision mists


You look around and wonder what you will take with you

(Nothing, of course) so you wonder what you might leave


You spend days in gardens and on nature paths

Desperately searching an infinite that lurks in the finite


Occasionally the trails diverge

But now of course the choice makes no difference


Ten flights up you dangle your legs

And call it an abyss


Suddenly the hummingbird appears and hovers

You decide not to jump


Your jaws conjure a smile


You watch the crimson sky recede


You recall the first time you tasted the flavor of mushroom

And her sweet scent as she teased and laughed




P.E. Sloan was raised in a small bungalow on the South Side of Chicago, where not so distant steel mills lit the night sky with orange flames. He went to college on the East Coast, and then worked as a journalist, commercial photographer and, occasionally, clueless deckhand in the Florida Keys and New England. Since then, his life has taken a more measured pace. P.E.’s poems have appeared in regional anthologies of Mid-Atlantic writers, and in Third Wednesday and Poetica Magazine. He currently lives above a noisy highway in Virginia and spends as much time as he can in a small studio in Brooklyn.


"This poem began to write itself last summer shortly after my much-loved younger brother Marty died suddenly. His death seemed unreal, and it took weeks for me to process his departure. He was one of the happiest people I knew. Early one morning a few days after he died, as I listened to a group of chirping birds, I had an unexpected, happy vision of his cheerful spirit.


Perhaps not surprisingly, Marty’s death caused me to consider mortality in general and, in particular, my own. That it occurred in the midst of the pandemic intensified this deliberation. This poem might be best understood as my own, small meditation on transience."