Edited and introduced by Gibson Fay-LeBlanc.

We live in an age of social media, so we have poems that rise out of things that happen online. But if that sounds frivolous to you, this week’s poem proves it doesn’t have to be. For every cat video or Joe Biden meme – or maybe for every hundred of those – there is someone documenting a real struggle online.

The Spanish poet Frederico Garcia Lorca said that poems (or any great art) should have “duende,” by which he meant some great pain or loss or heartbreak near their core. Shana Youngdahl’s poem certainly has that, as well as plenty of humor and a propulsive voice that sounds a bit like someone who’s been inside for too long staring at a screen and clicking “like.”

Youngdahl lives in Farmington with her husband and two daughters and is the author of “History, Advice and Other Half-Truths.”

My Dying Friend Keeps Posting Pictures of Sunsets

By Shana Youngdahl


And I want to tell him, enough with the cliché, we get it, you’re going

to die and you’re soaking up the very-last-beauty of it all right now, but

the sunsets you post are all shockingly beautiful, enhanced no doubt

by some filters, and of places most of us don’t think about,

a transformer station outside Topeka, Kansas, a drainage ditch outside

Ames, Iowa, The Stillwater River and an abandoned barn, but there’s


no good reason to stop a dying man from sharing the end-of-day

beauty he finds in the most surprising of places, and I, of course,

I’m his biggest fan, clicking the little star over and over. I have to wonder

how he finds so many sunsets in one day, does he drive rapidly westward,

camera in hand as evening approaches? Blazing clouds over

a highway bridge outside of Hannibal, Missouri. His grandson


perched in a canoe, Laverne, Minnesota. And I stop and look closer

remembering his son when we met, hunched on a skateboard,

looking up, same hair, same angle of back, and of course I know the obvious,

he’s a smart guy, he’s not just saying it’s the end of my life and it is beautiful,

he’s saying, it’s the end of your life too – because there is no way of knowing

and anyway there is speed – see the child morphs into grandchild


as the man shrinks under his rare disease, and gets better, better

enough to drive to the malt shop outside of Waterford, Wisconsin

and snap a grinning selfie with the sunset, neon sign, cars ordered in rows,

and what looks like girls on roller-skates, and short skirts, delivering

trays like they do only in the movies now, or in Waterford, Wisconsin

on summer nights, with a blaze in the sky, and they smile serving


all the dying people, like my friend, whose hair has come back, and is laughing

as he sucks up the chocolate through the straw, excited that he can

have this sweet junk again, can digest it, can taste, can stop to notice

the orange in the sky, the way it is burning up against the clouds,

and turn, put himself in the picture, again and again, refusing to fade

into the brilliant music of crickets, or dew-on-the-grass impermanence

of this or any hot summer night of this year, or the next

and the next, and the next. Click, click, click.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is Portland’s poet laureate. This column is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2016 Shana Youngdahl. It poem appears here by permission of the author.

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