Reverend Blind Gary Davis: Death Don’t Have No Mercy, 1961

Jane Yolen


We saw him once,
down in the Village at some club,
singing about death “always in a hurry,”
in that gravel of a voice,
that plonk of guitar.

Death seemed such an odd notion,
what with all the new medical interventions.
We were twenty, thought we’d live
forever, with our smooth skin,
smoother plans.
We drank wine and ate cheese
on French mountain tops,
danced in Greek tavernas,
floated in the Dead Sea.

Then we looked in the mirror,
and both our mothers were gone.
Of course they were old, in their fifties.
We mourned, then moved on.

But “death never takes a vacation.”
warned the Rev.
Next time we looked in that mirror,
our fathers were gone.
Of course they were old,
in their seventies, eighties.
We mourned them too, moved on.

Went down the Colorado river on a raft,
dogsledded in Alaska,
bagged a munro in Scotland.
Celebrated the birth of grandchildren,
knew we had good genes, spread wide.

I avoided mirrors for some time,
through doctors’ visits, because
“Death won’t give you time to get ready,”
and I needed to be ready.

Then one day in March,
when spring came dancing towards us,
I passed a mirror, side-glanced by accident,
and you, with all your good genes,
your easy laugh,
and all the things you knew–
names and songs of birds,
elegant codes,
the physics of forever,
the way you moved
in our big bed,
you were gone.

Death was in too much of a hurry
to take me with you.
The woman in the mirror
looks back at me, defiant.
reluctant, moving on.
Only sort of gone.



Jane Yolen is the author of over 370 published books including 10 books of poetry for adults. She has won two Nebulas, a World Fantasy Award, a Caldecott, three Mythopoeic awards, two Christopher Medals, a nomination for the National Book Award, the Jewish Book Award, the Kerlan Award, the Catholic Library’s Regina Medal, a nomination for the National Book Award, as well as six honorary doctorates. She was the first writer to win a New England Public Radio’s Arts & Humanities Award. Despite her many awards, she has this warning: Don’t go chasing fame. Just write. One of her awards set her good coat on fire.