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Showcase: Till Death Do Us Part + It Does Not Change A Thing + Child Of The Earth

Edited by ‘What If YOU Spoke?’ competition finalists from Libraries Unlimited.

We are four writers who submitted entries to the What If YOU Spoke? competition led by Libraries Unlimited in Devon in partnership with Pen to Print, the University of Exeter, Africa Writes and Literature Works as part of Exeter UNESCO City of Literature.

What If YOU Spoke? is all about giving people the chance to tell their story and have their voice heard – which, in these unsettling times, feels a significant thing! After taking part in a series of online masterclasses led by authors, poets, journalists and illustrators, we submitted pieces that were judged by a panel of experts in their field. The masterclasses are still available to access online for free and we’d encourage everyone to try them out.

Throughout the month of May, our showcases are presenting various winning and runner-up entries from the competition, alongside contributions submitted to Write On! directly. In this final showcase, I (Emma Poulton) will explore some thought-provoking pieces around the rawness and complexity of human thoughts and emotion.

My piece, Till Death Us Do Part, follows the tale of an unusual narrator – Death – and metaphorically brings something that is a natural part of human existence to ‘life’. I was inspired to write this piece by using an unreliable narrator, one that is never usually used to narrate a story, and yet one that is instantly recognisable. I wished to portray Death as an individual with human thoughts and emotions, instead of an inevitable phenomenon.

Till Death Us Do Part

I walk amongst you undetected, drifting within the curls of fog, and swimming amongst your exhaled breaths. I slip through your minds, a brief dance around the periphery of your thoughts, before exiting the way I came and moving on to the next. I watch as you rush from home to work, and then from work to home. A cycle that never seems complete and offers little satisfaction. ‘Why are humans always rushing?’ I ponder. ‘Don’t you know, I will catch up with you all eventually?’ I marvel at your deepest wonders, taste the very essence of your fears – all of which are insubstantial and can’t fuel me for long. I thrive off humanity; I simply can’t live without it.

I listen to your deepest, darkest secrets that play on loop in your mind as you try to sleep and watch your every waking thoughts burst in a kaleidoscope of bubbles around your head and yet, except for the minority, you are unaware I am watching. To say you don’t know me would be a lie, although it’s one you frequently try to convince yourself of. Whether you want to or not, everyone will know me when the time is right for me to reveal myself.

Your souls are a beautiful tapestry of colour, much more exquisite than any collector’s piece you might hang on your wall, and I don’t have to spend a penny. You will all be mine in time. I must only wait and, as luck would have it, that is something I’m notoriously good at.

Some souls are the colour of burning sunset, or the deep blue of an iridescent ocean. Others are a faint hue, almost imperceptible,  yet enthralling nonetheless. While even fewer, thankfully, are as dark and murky as the sins they’ve committed and, even for me, a collector of colours, I find it hard to take those souls home. But I can’t be picky. I am nothing if not efficient.

I roam tirelessly through the streets, listening to your microwaves reheating your next meal, your televisions projecting some inconsequential worldly event, your conversations between family and friends. All monotonous in nature, and yet fascinating, nonetheless. How I crave humanity. I move through your houses, covering miles in mere seconds. I linger with the elderly, hold their hands, and smell their memories. Soon, soon. ‘But,’ I warn myself, ‘not yet. I must be patient.’ I wander around the hospital wards, stopping at those whose time is near, drawing in deep lungfuls of their misery and illness. I can practically taste their souls, each one a smouldering fire within their being, growing fainter and fainter as their time draws near. Once or twice, a person will look up and their eyes will meet mine, almost begging for me to take them with me. How I wish I could. Yet, I must wait and so must you.

I pause to look through the expanse of graveyard, row upon row of history, of people inscribing their mark: ‘I was here. I mattered.’ Many are long forgotten, their carvings no more than dust. There is nothing for me here, no signs of life or bright colours to greet me, only a lone mourner, arranging a bright bouquet of flowers against a steadily decaying headstone. His soul is the colour of a murky pond; all semblance of life bleached away by grief, he is almost as dead as the remains beneath his feet. I inhale and draw in his sadness and longing.

I feel a pull, and I turn to the west, watching as the sun dips over the horizon, and paints the world a beautiful array of warm oranges and reds. I reach out and touch the rays, running my fingers through their translucent vibrancy and yet, no matter how hard I try, the warmth of the sun makes not one iota of difference to my pallor.

I can sense the vibrations of disaster in the air ricocheting around me and, I must admit, I practically quiver with anticipation. I follow the source, navigating the world with ease, drifting down roads and through blocks of flats as if they are no more substantial than smoke. I’m proud of myself. I don’t stop once to absorb the intimacy of a lover’s kiss, the wail of a newborn’s cry or the raised voices of an argument. As tempting as they may be to consume, I can sense the urgency to my calling. I travel across mountains, deserts, and oceans, never tiring or needing to stop for sustenance. I am above such mortal desires. I don’t even stop when an addict wandering the city streets calls out to me, raising her bottle in greeting, before falling face-first into the gutter. I stop for no one, not even time.

I reach the scene, a whirlwind of noise and smoke, and step delicately over the police barrier. I can smell the fear in the air, emanating from the crowd of onlookers trying to quench their morbid curiosity, and the rescue crews shouting orders to each other, their anxious faces illuminated by the flash of blue lights. The remnants of a car lay twisted and broken in the middle of the road, the roof having been almost crushed in half. I notice her, a purple, glowing soul filled with such potential and hope that I stop, pause for a moment and inhale. I can taste her desires, her dreams, her deepest regrets on the tip of my tongue, where they explode and trickle with warmth through my being. I could stay here for the rest of eternity, drinking in the elixir of her soul but, alas, I have a job to do.

I go over to her and lean over the crew of paramedics, each one making frantic attempts to save her life. An oxygen mask here, a splint for her leg there, another trying in desperate hope to find a good vein to administer a painkiller. I look across her body, see the shattered ribcage pressing fervently through her punctured lungs, the dislocation of her hip and the way her leg is hanging at such an awkward angle. I see the blood that shimmers like rubies as it flows steadily from a deep cut above her brow. While the woman doesn’t scream, I can tell by the way she’s biting hard on her lower lip and the fire burning deep within her ebony eyes, that she is in agony. I breathe in her pain.



She looks straight up at me. Our eyes meet. I feel that, in her state of delirious pain, she recognises me. Dare I say, almost considering a smile. I can see the relief fluttering in her eyes, as her thoughts burst in bubbles around me: ‘Please. Please. Please.’

There is desperation and longing in her voice. I listen as her heart stutters, skipping a beat before continuing to throb with fatigue. I can smell her blood in a pool around her and I know that, despite their best efforts, nothing can save her. She is mine.

I reach out my arms, as though to embrace her, and watch as her soul floats gently through the air towards me. Her eyelids flutter and begin to close, her breaths becoming deeper and deeper, as she slips into her forever sleep. I watch as the paramedics begin chest compressions.

Her soul settles gently in my arms. I hold it tight to my chest, feeling its warmth soak through my being.

“Time of death, 11:43.”

I turn away from the scene, heading home. There is nothing left for me here. My job is done. I cradle the soul in my arms. ‘If I had told you that today would be your last, would you have lived it any differently?’ I wonder.

© Emma Poulton, 2022


When I first read this next poem, I was struck by the the writer’s thought-provoking use of words and how this resonates with each of us on both a unique and individual level. In particular, the final stanza. This addresses how we see the world, either from a negative or positive viewpoint, regardless of our mental outlook. I am able to draw many similarities between this poem and my own piece above, in that both are addressing a common human experience: our thoughts of Death and the complexity of human emotion. Also, both seek to explore a topic in which, regardless of different ways of thinking, reality and natural processes remain the same.

It Does Not Change A Thing

However you look at it
It is all the same
What brought the clouds
Can also bring the sunshine
Does not really change a thing

Change is the natural direction
Of the storm and human nature
Whatever you are going through
It does not really change a thing
Because it is all the same

Depending on how you look at it
It is all the same
What brought the clouds
Can also bring the sunshine
Does not really change a thing

The glass could be half full
Or it could be half empty
Depending on how you look at it
Does not really change a thing

© Diane Mangal, 2012


Finally, I really connected with Child Of The Earth. I felt it encapsulated both my own work and the poem above. Similar to my own piece, the writer uses an unusual narrator, Mother Earth, to explore the variety of human emotions. Through interesting use of language, the reader feels a sense of remorse and responsibility towards the current state of our planet, by suggesting this is something we have undoubtedly instigated ourselves.

Child Of The Earth

I opened my window one smog-filled night,
coughing on fumes and blinded by street light,
I fell into a restless sleep,
On the bed Mother made for me.

In the darkness they seeped into my room,
dancing silently in the blackness, like car fumes.
In a flash the balance was all wrong,
I tried to scream for Mother, but my voice had gone.

The mining continued, with endless explosions
I had no resources left to fight their corrosion.
The forest fire raged on in a blaze,
Perhaps Mother could help get me out of this maze?

Acid rain fell on the statues in my secret garden,
storms thrashed my sacred place, I couldn’t stop them.
I wondered when the balance would be reinstated,
I knew that Mother couldn’t stop their hatred

They threw me away like plastic when they were done,
I felt artificial, contorted, washed up on the shore.
Mother touched my face gently,
I didn’t care anymore.

The soothing nature of her touch has gone,
Harsh sirens replacing her sweet lullaby of birdsong.
The ringing sound ricocheted in my skull,
Mother gave no protection against such evil.

© Jo Cutler, 2020

That’s it for this month!

To read the entries in full, visit Evolve at Libraries Unlimited:

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