Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

BooksMay 8, 2020

The Friday Poem: How to die by Helen Rickerby

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

A poem by Ockham finalist Helen Rickerby.

How to die


From here there is nowhere else to go

only a question

of the journey, the route

and the hope of meandering

through a few more summers


We say we don’t want suffering but often

given a chance, we will choose it

It all depends

on what the other choice is


Someone I trusted told me once that no one changes when they’re dying

‘You don’t become what you’re not’

And yet, we each have so many sides

how can we even say what is out of character?


My grandmother’s cousin spent the day in town, walked home

up the hill, said to his wife, ‘I feel a bit tired’

sat on his chair, took a nap

and never woke


My dad says he is not afraid

which has been a comfort, though it doesn’t mean

he didn’t fight, and he has won this round

I am not afraid because I refuse to even think of it


But the sky is so blue today

and the branches with their budding leaves

their shadows only adding to the light


In a poem of this title

you might justifiably have expected some advice

and it almost pains me to tell you

because I am full of wise advice at any hour of the day

that I must apologise


‘How to die’ appears in How to Live by Helen Rickerby (Auckland University Press, 2019), shortlisted for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the 2020 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. Winners are announced Tuesday May 12, via YouTube.

The Friday Poem is edited by Ashleigh Young. Submissions for The Friday Poem are welcome at

Keep going!