You only live once—a poem

A small Mexican pottery skull perching under a bedside lamp

Memento mori! Gather ye rosebuds! Every morning and night this cheerful little Mexican pottery skull reminds me very sweetly that one day I’m going to die.

One life? That’s all?
No rehearsals, no re-runs
just forward gear?
That changes everything.

I have to decide about rosebuds
whether to prune or rip them off
and every day another choice
that can only be chosen once

whether to study, marry
wait or hurry
all or nothing, win or lose
depends on what I choose.

Rachel McAlpine 2019 cc by 2.0

Oh the weight and the divine opportunity of living just one life. Remember, this is only a poem. In real life, when I choose one of several options, I usually believe that some of the other options would be equally satisfactory. That’s what makes a decision difficult! It’s rarely all-or-nothing, win or lose. Being right is not usually a big deal. I reckon it’s more important to actively, consciously, frequently make a choice — even if you deliberately choose not to choose, or to do nothing. Making decisions gives you a sense of control over your life. When things get difficult you feel more in charge of your fate than if you just wait for stuff to happen or torture yourself with doubt. True?

What a vague explanation of what this poem does not say! Ah well, so be it. I choose to let it lie.

24 thoughts on “You only live once—a poem

  1. Vihani says:

    Nicely written!

  2. Ah, yes, you are so wise. To the extent that I can carry these years more lightly, some of those choices become less odious and often, even more satisfying.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s interesting! One of the pleasures of old age, I think.

  3. JOY journal says:

    Ah, are you a get-it-right one? My husband is like that. He does a lot of research. I am a get-it-done, which has its pros and cons, as well. 🙂

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Often, but not always. I am famous among my friends for rapid action, but for my boot camp for the bonus years I planned till I was blue in the face.

  4. Good choice!

  5. Sadje says:

    I love your poem.

  6. Robyn Haynes says:

    As always Rachel, your poems and posts are very thought provoking. The hubris we humans have – to even imagine that choices give us control over our lives.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Robyn, you are so appreciative. You always understand and then add something significant to my exploration.

  7. Cathy Cade says:

    And have you noticed how time speeds up as you get older? So you get to find out sooner when you made a bad decision.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      That’s a bonus!

    2. Robyn Haynes says:

      Every ‘mistake’ is a lesson, so never lost

  8. Love this photograph…what a super subtle morning reminder. Thankyou.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s wonderful the way a cliche can expand in your mind when you put it under a microscope.

    2. Rachel McAlpine says:

      And the photo: yes, I love that cheeky little chappie.

  9. Lorna Poole says:

    Of late I have been attending to the new needs of my 89 year old mother. A brain tumour has caused a pivot – from strong to weak; from independent to clingy; from future focussed to future afraid. Such a time we’re having. I’m embracing the gift of these days but am aware of time in a new way – all its ticking and tocking seem evident for the first time in my 60 years. This particular piece has struck a heart string today. Thank you.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      I thank you right back, Lorna. You are living what the poem merely says.

  10. JT Twissel says:

    I would be happy if that were true – but that’s just me.

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Not just you!

  11. mpardi2013 says:

    Very engaging. Perhaps it’s my age, but I find myself sometimes more curious about what I did not choose than what I chose. And when I consider the consequences of even a “casual” choice, both for what happens and for what may have happened but didn’t, the permutations expand exponentially leaving me with that untrustworthy voice saying, “Don’t think about it. Just do it.”

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      It’s wonderful to reach the stage where such reflection is no longer heinous. No more “if only!” Or so we hope.

  12. calmkate says:

    Interesting thought process, nice to meet you!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Let’s keep in touch!

      1. calmkate says:

        please visit as you wish 🙂

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