“Clarify your intent,” — Lama Chopra, our

meditation teacher, rang the bell for us to

sit — “the Reaper was once an old friend.”

My empty mind was eating me up: black

bit-strings of acid. My poems were hot-

spots. I was mapping the mess like a



An old friend. I shut my eyes momentarily, 

sensing snowflakes, the floaters of starlight

white roses where the serpent slept in

paradise. He hides in grass shoots in

the bardo of dying. In no time, the wind

blows and I clear the quicksand in my

rickety funereal boat.


Paddling downriver, I blink in the hot sun

(Styx is more of a bog, with no rapids to

speak of) pretending to observe as an old

friend who reports back to the living. If I 

weren’t already dead…


“…ah, you’re convinced!” Lama Chopra

shook his head — my darkest lie, my false

protection! “Never fall for that. The dead

dream as much as you or I. In fact, most 

have died many times. Living is relative.”


Shape-shifting, I figure, is for getting out

of deep water. I’ll be a turtle or frog hiding 

among the rocks. Being a snake would be

a problem: I’m afraid I’d be mistaken for 

the devil. As an owl, I’d be a laughable



I’d prefer no living creatures were in sight,

but I admit I’d be an obsequious hypocrite

were a wizard nearby: he’d teach me to

survive as a vulture who’d airbrush the



Carrion’s plentiful here; per his instruct-

ions to live off the dead, I’d embody a

sorcerer’s wisdom: Death is not an end, just

a disappearance, so long as you can die again!


Rebecca Lilly is the author of poetry collections such as You Want to Sell Me a Small Antique, winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize, and has recently appeared in publications such as Hotel Amerika, Stand, New American Writing, Phantom Drift, and Denver Quarterly. She is also the author of an upcoming collection of flash fiction through Broadstone Books. 

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