Mia Ayumi Malhotra

from A Death Diary: Day 10

I don’t know if there is a word for what I am writing: a death diary?

For years, you kept a record of each day: visitors, medications. Notable events.

Your caregiver’s name, the one with the red coat and yellow buttons. After dinner, she laid a hand on your shoulder, though you did not wish to be touched.

How sad it is that even this last memento of the dead should vanish.[1]

Your last entry was two weeks ago.

I did not know I was to continue your work in this way.

Saturday, the day of your last entry. Wednesday, the day you died.

Why do people keep diaries? Prisoners, explorers, regents—of course. But there are so many others, nobly addressing the entire future.[2]

In death, I can speak to you as I could not in life.

In death, perhaps you hear me as you did not in life.

Typing the words, The day you died, I have the feeling of someone watching over my shoulder. You are both here and not here.

Nothing is sadder than the time after a death.[3]

Sunday, you woke coughing, lungs filled with fluid.

Monday, you refused morphine, insisted you would not die.

Tuesday, you did not speak at all.

When I said goodbye, I did not know it would be the last time, though I felt it was possible.

There were sandwiches for lunch. In the kitchen, dozens of plastic vials, tagged with name and medical number.

They stopped giving you eye drops.

To write a diary is to make a series of choices about what to omit, what to forget.[4]

Afterward, I touched your cheek, which felt very cold but still very much a cheek. How my mother’s skin feels—soft and strangely intimate.

Though a cheek is not a particularly intimate part of the body.

Although to touch it is a different matter. Or to kiss it, which I did.

Paper cups and mouth swabs dispersed throughout the house, objects whose functions had ended with the same finality as your body.

It is sad to think that a man’s familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain unaltered long after he is gone.[5]

Left in a pile on the washing machine: the flannel shirt you wore the day before your death. A cotton nightgown.

This is an account that has already ended. It is Day 10 after your death.

To write this diary, chronicling the days after your death, is to write past the end, into the silence that follows the final statement.

And so I write into the beyond—for me, a new kind of blindness.

The body is interred in some lonely mountain and visited only at the required times. Before long, the grave marker is covered with moss and buried in fallen leaves. The evening storms and the night moon become the only regular mourners.[6]

Is it possible for the dead to keep a pillow book?

Do I lack imagination, a Japanese woman poet writing in the style of Sei Shonagon?

Maybe I should write a novel. Dense, literary realism with a sweeping, masculine plot.

But instead, these airy, ethereal musings. My interest in ephemera. Today’s thoughts, which pass over the face like regret.

A new question: are you now a ghost?

What is the different between a ghost and an ancestor?

We do not by any means forgot the dead, even after months and years go by, but, as they say, “the departed one grows more distant each day.”[7]

I am adrift in the openness of this new time—there appears no beginning nor end.


[1] Kenko, “30,” Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko, trans. Donald Keene (New York: Columbia University Press, 1967), 31.

[2] Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2015), 7.

[3] Kenko, 31.

[4] Manguso, 6.

[5] Kenko, 30.

[6] Kenko, 30-31.

[7] Kenko, 30.

Mia Ayumi Malhotra is the author of Isako Isako, winner of the 2017 Alice James Award. She received her MFA from the University of Washington and is a Kundiman and VONA/Voices Fellow. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Anthology. Her poems have appeared in Poetry Northwest, The Yale Review, Indiana Review, and elsewhere. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. Read more at: miamalhotra.com