My last death was William Stringfellow's.
rattled its begging bowl
like the drummer of Armageddon.
Sustenance! Sympathy! it drummed
Stringfellow bethought; Death
lacking a name—
(Unnameable, nameless horror
they muttered in terror)—
he named it finally, taming
once for all
the appetite that fed
on kings and clowns—
fed and fed, never satiated—
women, warriors, the sleepy eyed unborn—
We must break this thrall
once for all, became his mind's
holy obsession and vocation.
Like a priest's crucifix aloft
before the obscene undead,
Christ expiring for love, summoning a last
commanding cry; Down dog death!—
Thus Stringfellow. Transfixed, laid claim
years and years, a crucifix in hands
not his, miraculous he moved in the world
chasing death pitilessly
dismaying, dispelling death.
Then as the sun advances, and shadows
he stands, believe, in resplendent noon.
Taken from the cross
he ascends straight up.
And death, shadowy, starved, named
for what it is, is not
and no where to be seen.
Daniel Berrigan is a Sojourners contributing editor. He is the author of Steadfastness of the Saints: A Journal of Peace and War in Central and North America (Orbis Books, 1985).