Last Request

By Theresa Burns

When I’m dying and they come
for the last request, I may pass
on a sumptuous meal, ask instead
to ride the bus down Fifth Avenue
on a day like this one. June sky
a Looney Tunes blue, the skins
of sycamores peeling to fresh.
I’ll start in the nineties, where if I squint
I can be in the 16th arrondissement—
so many mansard roofs sluiced
with pigeon droppings, X-rays in trim
Chanel suits headed out for tea. Let me
ogle the Guggenheim again, imagine
the planets in Klee paintings
tracing ellipses on the hive walls.
In the row ahead: a black pirate-
hatted woman, spitting image of Marianne
Moore, a good witch to have
near the end. Let our driver worry
about four o’clock traffic. And the wait
as we kneel for the wheelchaired
passenger to embark. Me, I’m in no hurry.
Make as many stops as you like. I love
these big dirty windows, the perfect
height of my perch. Look Marianne,
no hands!
Only the one writing down
on an envelope—  
                              Be an eye at the end,
not a brain, or a heart.
Just a muscle that records what it’s seeing:
gingko, street lamp, line.


Theresa Burns’ writing has appeared in The New York Times, Prairie Schooner, JAMA, America Magazine, The Night Heron Barks, SWWIM, and elsewhere. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and author of the chapbook Two Train Town. In 2020, she was runner-up in The Poet’s Prize from the Journal of New Jersey Poets. A long-time book editor, she is the curator of Watershed Literary Events and teaches writing in and around New York.

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