When they ask how he died I tell them

he found the gate unlatched,

                                                                               crossed the downy path


                                                    into the volant field,


pressed his palm against a river birch carved with his name,


                             his breath, a brace of stars—


                                                                                                                         and never looked back.

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Stacy Nigliazzo is a nurse and an MFA candidate at the University of Houston creative writing program. One of Pulse’s two poetry editors, she is the award-winning author of three full-length poetry collections from Press 53: Scissored Moon, Sky the Oar and My Borrowed Face.

About the Poem

“Anyone who works in a hospital will eventually witness the unexpected death of a patient and later be asked by family and loved ones, ‘What happened?’ This poem poses a simple answer, and specifically honors the many times I’ve contemplated this question over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.”


15 thoughts on “When they ask how he died I tell them”

  1. This feels like a silly question, but I wonder what you mean by “a brace of stars”?
    Our local use of ‘brace’ doesn’t fit with the rest of your poem, and we’d like to understand it fully, as others have said, it’s lovely writing.

    1. Sarah,

      Thank you for your comments and your thoughtful question. I’m pleased to find my poem has you thinking – a poet’s highest compliment! As this is a pandemic elegy, incorporating “breath” was an absolute imperative. The word “brace” is rooted in Latin, “bracchia,” meaning arms, and also further derived from Old French and Greek to mean “a clasp or strap for fastening”. Thus, the gate is an awakening; what is lost in death is now the truss, netted with stars.

  2. Thank you! I have just started writing a short piece about an unexplained death and this puts it into brevity and accuracy so well

  3. The answer to the question lies not in cliché or helpless phrases but in metaphor, poetry, the words you have given here. Thank you.

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Call for Entries​

Pulse Writing Contest​​

"On Being Different"