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Maxine Chernoff

Maybe tonight when you light your lamp you are dead already but unaware of your passing. And your family as well doesn't notice a single change. At first you don't believe it, but when you hear songs enclose you and smells waft toward you the fragrance of shadows, you are convinced. When you speak you have your usual voice. When you kiss, the warm, pungent aroma of life remains, distilled. So what is the difference? It is how your heart has opened: emptied of old grievances, it is completely filled by strangers and cherry blossoms, and those who will someday grieve your next passing, which is not death but departure. Stay as long as you wish. It is your secret to yourself.

Maxine Chernoff is the author of 20 poetry collections, most recently Light and Clay: New and Selected Poems (MadHat Press, 2023). Former chair of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, she is an NEA Fellow, a winner of the PEN Translation Award, and a former visiting writer at the American Academy in Rome.