Death is Not the End
David Foster Wallace


The 56-year-old American poet, a Nobel Laureate, a poet known in American literary circles as "the poet's poet" or sometimes simply "the Poet," lay outside on the deck, bare-chested, moderately overweight, in a partially reclined deck chair, in the sun, reading, half supine, moderately but not severely overweight, winner of two National Book Awards, an American Book Critics' Circle Award, a Lament Prize, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Prix de Rome, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a MacDowell Medal, and a Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy and National Institute of Arts and Letters, a president emeritus of PEN, a poet two separate American generations have hailed as the voice of their generation, now 56, lying in an unwet XL Speedo-brand swimsuit in an incrementally reclinable canvas deck chair on the tile deck beside the home's pool, a poet who was among the first ten Americans to receive a "Genius Grant" from the prestigious MacArthur Foundation, one of only three American recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature now living, 5' 8", 181 lbs., brown/brown, hairline unevenly recessed because of the inconsistent acceptance/rejection of various Hair Augmentation Systems-brand transplants, he sat, or lay—or perhaps most accurately just reclined—in a black Speedo swimsuit by the home's kidney-shaped pool (1), on the pool's tile deck, in a portable deck chair whose back was now reclined four clicks to an angle of 35_ w/r/t the deck's mosaic tile, at 10:20 A.M. on 15 May 1995, the fourth most anthologized poet in the history of American belles lettres, near an umbrella but not in the actual shade of the umbrella, reading Newsweek magazine (2), using the modest swell of his abdomen as an angled support for the magazine, also wearing thongs, one hand behind his head, the other hand out to the side and trailing on the dun-and-ocher filigree of the deck's expensive Spanish ceramic tile, occasionally wetting a finger to turn the page, wearing prescription sunglasses whose lenses were chemically treated to darken in fractional proportion to the luminous intensity of the light to which they were exposed, wearing on the trailing hand a wristwatch of middling quality and expense, simulated rubber thongs on his feet, legs crossed at the ankle and knees slightly spread, the sky cloudless and brightening as the morning's sun moved up and right, wetting a finger not with saliva or perspiration but with the condensation on the thin frosted glass of iced tea that rested now just on the border of his body's shadow to the chair's upper right and would soon have to be moved to remain in that cool shadow, tracing a finger idly down the glass's side before bringing the slightly moist finger idly up to the page, occasionally turning the pages of the 19 September 1994 edition of Newsweek magazine, reading about American health-care reform and about US Air's tragic Flight 427, reading a summary and favorable review of the popular nonfiction volumes Hot Zone and The Coming Plague, sometimes turning several pages in succession, skimming certain articles and summaries, an eminent American poet now four months short of his fifty-seventh birthday, a poet whom Newsweek magazine's chief competitor, Time magazine, had once rather absurdly called "the closest thing to a genuine literary immortal now living," his shins nearly hairless, the open umbrella's shadow distending slightly, the thongs' simulated rubber pebbled on both sides of the sole, the poet's forehead dotted with perspiration, his tan deep and rich, the insides of his upper legs nearly hairless, his penis curled tightly on itself inside the tight swimsuit, his Vandyke neatly trimmed, a clean ashtray on the iron table, not drinking his iced tea, occasionally clearing his throat, at certain intervals shirting slightly in the pastel deck chair to scratch idly at the instep of one foot with the big toe of the other foot without removing his thongs or looking at either foot, seemingly intent on the magazine, the home's blue pool to his right and the home's thick glass sliding rear door to his oblique left, between himself and the pool a round table of white woven iron impaled at the center by a large beach umbrella whose distending shadow now nearly touches the pool, an indisputably accomplished poet, reading his magazine in his chair on his deck by his pool behind his home. The home's pool and deck area are surrounded on three sides by a dense tangle of trees and shrubbery. The trees and shrubbery, planted years before, are densely interwoven and serve the same essential function as a privacy fence or a wall of fine stone. It is the height of spring, and the trees and shrubbery are in full leaf and are intensely green and still, and are complexly shadowed, and the sky is wholly blue and still, so that the whole enclosed tableau of pool and deck and poet and chair and trees and home's rear facade is very still and composed and very nearly wholly silent, the gentle gurgle of the pool's pump and drain and the occasional sound of the poet clearing his throat or turning the pages of Newsweek magazine the only sounds—not a bird, no distant lawn mowers or hedge trimmers or weed wackers, no airplanes overhead or distant muffled sounds from the pools of the homes on either side of the poet's home, nothing but the pool's respiration and poet's occasional cleared throat, wholly still and enclosed, not even a hint of a breeze to stir the leaves of the trees and shrubbery, the silent living nastic enclosing flora's motionless green vivid and inescapable and not like anything else in the world in either appearance or suggestion (3).


(1) Also the first American-born poet ever in the Nobel Prize for Literature's distinguished 94-year history to receive it, the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature.

(2) Never the recipient of a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship, however: rejected thrice early in his poetry career, he had determined that something personal and/or political was afoot with the Guggenheim Fellowship committee and had decided that he'd simply be damned, starve utterly, before he would ever again hire a Graduate Assistant to fill out the tiresome triplicate Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship application and go through the tiresome contemptible farce of "objective" consideration again.

(3) That is not entirely true.