Sono’s Death Poem
Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,
Soon enough the seas will sink your little island
So while there is still the illusion of time,
Set out for another shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
Give away all your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid.
Someone knows you’re coming.
An extra fish has been salted.
-Mona “Sono” Santacroce 1928-1995 She wrote this poem in hospice in San Francisco in the tradition of Japanese death poems written by Zen monks and others just before dying.
I found Sono’s Death Poem when I was sorting through Bobi’s possessions in Santa Cruz. She died on December 13, just a few days after my last post. I left for Santa Cruz on the 17th and stayed in the little blue redwood cabin by the water where we had planned to spend time together. I had gone to look at it in July when I was visiting Bobi. We agreed it was a splendid sanctuary. We would cook and talk and listen to the waves crash on the shore.
But alas, it was meant to be the place where I would hold vigil. Tend to Bobi’s things. Search and find the gold nuggets left for me to discover in notes, dreams, reflections. Where I would light candles and sort through all the paper scraps and old photos and pebbles, and driftwood, her old blue sweater. That I wore while excavating. Here in this place by the sea.
I brought candles. I wrote. I sifted. I sat by the door and watched the waves and the rain and listened to the howling of the wind.
It was stormy and dark. Rain beat against the old redwood walls. Gusts of wind whirled outside and whistled through the door. I peered into the dark waves and tried to see her little boat. Was she warm? Was she afraid?
Each day I went to Bobi’s place and helped clean out and sort through her things. I met her dear and lovely Santa Cruz people, Debra, Jim, and Annette. And her housemate, Leslie. I sat each night reading scraps of paper, notes, poems, going through old photos, letters, journals, to-do lists. It was and still is a tender time. I can feel Bobi all around.
Moved by the 49-day passage through the bardo that the Tibetan Buddhists honor, I have concocted my own 49-day observance and ritual. Today is day 19. I light candles each night, offer poems, and send out waves of love. I tune my dials to the frequencies and weather conditions for the passage to the far shore.
She’s almost halfway there. I can sense the floating movement of her small vessel. The way she turns her face upward towards the bright constellations, her guides. One hand in the water. Dophins and sea turtles and manta rays dive and surface around her offering their protection.
2 days before I came home, I went to this hilltop in Soquel across from the crematorium as Bobi was cremated. I put her beloved soul collage cards on the dash and read some poems to her. Also I ate a sandwich and had a cup of hot soup. She would have approved of this v.v.v. much.
Back home in Los Angeles, winter’s darkest days are behind us. The new year rises like a giant sun in the east.
The back patio fills with light, clouds, rain, and wind. I found a tiny dead sparrow in the lane the other night and placed him under the lavender.
The cat posse scamper and play and fight and jump and sharpen their claws on the couch. We take naps together.
The moon waxes then wanes as the days pass. Owls hoot in the tall trees.
Tomorrow will be Day 20 of Bobi’s long journey. I keep vigil each night. There is a metaphorical black ribbon hung over the door of Moss Cottage. We, the inhabitants, are watchful in our solitude. Finding patches of sunlight. Present for what each day brings. Not moving to the left or right. Staying here in the middle. The very center of the great unknown.
About 6 weeks before she died she sat at an overlook in Santa Cruz in her car. “I really don’t want to be done here,” she told me as she looked out at the sun glinting on the water. “I don’t want to be done.”
The day before she died, her good friend and drum mentor Jim brought his buffalo drum into her bedroom at home. He played it for her. She lay on her bed with her face in the sunshine in a semi-conscious state, eyes closed. She raised her eyebrows in response to the drumming.
And finally, a fragment of one of her favorite poems & blessings that I will read at her memorial and that I offer you today, on this first day of the new year.