One day Father Death and Father Life were walking hand in hand down the streets of the City. Which city? Well, sir, it was all cities all at once. It was London. It was Khartoum. It was Budapest. It was New Haven, Connecticut. Father Death and Father Life can do that kind of thing. And these two old gentlemen have spent many a lovely afternoon strolling together. But not recently. Work had been busy for both. The population boom completely exhausted Father Life. His hair turned gray and fell out completely. Father Death fared no better. With all the wars and diseases, his skin was now weathered like a rock face battered by the waves.
So this was the first time they had been out and about for ages. Father Life looked around the thoroughfare: at all the faces, pulses, and buzzing rhythms, and was filled with great pride. He turned to Father Death and said, “What do you say, old friend? These eyes. These breathing mouths. This throng of life. I would never say anything bad about you, but everywhere I go, I am greeted with the jubilation of existence.” And Father Death chuckled and said, “Maybe that’s true.”
Well, sir, by and by, these two distinguished old men found themselves leaving the brightly lit storefronts and boulevards and into the shadowy, uneven streets that surrounded the commercial district. Outstretched hands dressed in tattered rags came out from crouching corners. People walked with lowered eyes, coughing into the air. Many asked for alms, for coins, for a little something for coffee. Father Death reached into his pockets and gave to everyone who asked. He had large pockets. They were filled with forgotten money, gold fillings, shawls for warmth, pennies off a dead man’s eyes. His pockets were surely bountiful.
But Father Life reached into his pockets and found them bare. They were filled with promise, hope and growing potential. But nothing of substance, only a little lint.
And the sickly came to them and Father Life was ashamed. He could not find words for them. His tongue was hollow. But Father Death smiled and laughed and touched them with kindness. He gave them words to warm themselves. Like, “Not for a while, you still have time.” Or, “You need to fight. There is fight in you still. I will not come for you until I have seen that you have fought.” And to a few of them he just said, “Soon. I will come soon.”
And as these things happened, Father Death and Father Life were on the boardwalk, by the river. Well, sir, Father Life was despondent and would not say a word for quite a while. Finally, he looked at his companion and said, “What good am I? I give life, but I can’t help the needy. I have no comfort for the sick. Only in your palms is their any peace. Only in death is there any solace.
Father Death laughed. He said, “There is solace in me? Yes, I suppose there is. I am where the story ends. Yes. But the excitement comes from you. Only in living and experiencing what life offers, will they come to me with appreciation. I might be the final comfort, but you are all the simple joys. You are midnight kisses. You are light summer rain and birthday presents. You are home runs and pirouettes. You are crayon portraits, sad poems and meringue music. You are ripe tomatoes and leaps of faith.
“Every story must end in me, but you make the tale colorful. You give it a soul. No one would want to come to me if you did not fill them with the sights and sounds of this mad carnival. After a day at this parade, full of frights and thrills, everyone returns home, ready for sleep but filled with the knowledge that they have had a very fine day.
“Do not feel sad, for we are the mouth and the tail of the serpent eating itself.” And Father Death took Father Life’s face in his old hands and brought him to his lips, where they kissed by the running water. And kissed again.
And for one second, all of existence held its breath in a moment of unexpected harmony. And that’s how it happened. Or at least, that’s what I was told.
Dave MacPherson is a co-editor for Ballard Street Poetry Journal.