Where’s Neil when you need him?

With that one line above, I’ve revealed two particular details about me: that I’m a fan of Tori Amos, and that I love to read Neil Gaiman’s works. I say “works”, of course, because the man can craft with words so well that I’ve been known to say that I’d happily read his grocery shopping list.

Early Neil

I first discovered Neil Gaiman accidentally. I was reading Wizard magazine, and there was an article about the launch of the Vertigo imprint. Naturally, Sandman was mentioned, so I began to look into getting the title. The first issue that I managed to get was issue #54. Set during the “World’s End” storyline, one of the travelers to the inn told an allegorical tale about a boy who became president, but was killed before his time. This clearly referred to the story of Christ, and I was absolutely blown away.

Death

With issue #56, the World’s End storyline came to an end, and my life was changed forever. A funeral procession occurred at the end of the book, and the one bringing up the rear of the procession was none other than Death, the eponymous Sandman’s older sister. The way the story was crafted, the way the art was drawn, and the way the book was laid out combined to touch some of the most intimate parts of my soul. In that moment, I fell hopelessly in love with Death. I saw in her face something beyond the sorrow for her brother’s passing.

Laugh or shake your head as you will, I am not ashamed to say it.

Later Neil

Over the years, I have read much of what he has written, and I follow him on LiveJournal and Twitter without fail. Stardust is the Gaiman novel that’s come closest to touching on that feeling I experienced when I first saw Death, but nothing’s been like that since.

The Poem

We are now going to skip ahead about a year from the point the last poem I shared was written. I was immersed in comics. I read them and reread them and dreamed of being a comic writer. During this time, of course, I still had that ever-present hope/wish/desire to find a girlfriend. Like any youth, I was sure that if I found a girl who liked me the way I liked her, the world would correct itself.

As I look back, part of me cynically laughs at the idea. We “grown-ups” understand that life doesn’t work that way, and chalk those feelings up to inexperience. Yet, a small part of me – a forever young and hopeful part – says just as strongly, if a bit more quietly, that it could have happened, had I let it. It tells me that I had to truly want that to happen, more than anything. It’s of little point now, except to serve as a reminder that we should always be ready to chase our dreams, damn the consequences.

I wrote this poem in French class one afternoon in spring 1993-4. We had completed our assignment, and had some free time. It’s possible I wrote it somewhere else, but I remember holding the sheets of paper with the poem on it while sitting in French class, so that’s how I’m going to remember it.

I remember being surprised at how long it was. Up until that point, my poems were rarely longer than 10-15 lines or so, and never more than 4 stanzas. When I wrote “Death Comes in the Night”, though, I had to tell a complete story.

In the poem, I combined my love of Death with the reason why I couldn’t land a girlfriend. The last line of the poem alone could be endlessly discussed and debated for hours. This poem is rife with meaning, even as my 36-year-old self considers how he could edit it to make it better, without damaging the overall narrative. I know that I can make edits to make it “more correct grammatically”, but I also know that what makes this poem so special would be fundamentally changed.

*shrugs helplessly* Well, I’ll just let it do the talking. Enjoy.

Death Comes in the Night

As the stars flutter by,
On their nightly journey up high,
I think of life and sigh.
Tonight is a good night to die.

I look around my dark-filled room,
lighted only by the silvery moon.
From my door I hear a creak.
Very loud, yet barely a peep.

The imposing figure, swathed in black,
Steps forward as I pull back.
“‘Tis time to go, my good friend.
I am here to tell you this is the end.”

I look at her face and quietly ask,
“Is there one last favor that I may ask?”
She looks me up and down. Into my soul.
“Only as long as with me you will go.”

I lick my lips, taking a chance.
“Why couldn’t I find romance?”
She stares at me and sighs,
“I shall grant you my reply.”

“You were born at a bad time.
Something just wasn’t right.
However, possibly more than any other,
You have been promised to another.

You didn’t know I was there,
Hanging at the very edge of the air.
Know who I am, I plead you,
Because always you must, yet always you knew.”

Now I straighten, and look right at her,
“You mean we are meant to be together?”
She looks at me and nods her head.
I know that I’ll be happy dead.

“Let’s go now, I ask you,
I plan to spend eternity with you.”
She smiles beautifully, and heaves a sigh,
“Stop it now, or you’ll make Death cry.”

She motions for me,
Come now, we must hurry.”
I nod my weary head
Even as I hastily rise from the bed.

The stars’ travel is almost done,
As the neverending circle continues on.
I will never dread another night,
Because I have Death for a bride.
Oh yes, the night is now mine,
It was a good night to die…

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One thought on “Where’s Neil when you need him?

  1. “It’s of little point now, except to serve as a reminder that we should always be ready to chase our dreams, damn the consequences.”

    Excellent observation and sentiment. Unfortunatelty, most people live in too much fear to do so. That said, I really do like this poem quite a bit. I think I would enjoy hearing it read aloud, with the emotion that I feel in the lines coming through in voice. There is such a… lost and yearning quality to this one, yet a feeling of contentment at the last. It is very telling, not just of you then, but if you now.

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