One would assume a poem about death would be sad and depressing, but Jay Rogoff was able to create something light with dark metaphors in his poem “Death’s Theater.” Rogoff paints this picture of Death becoming the director of the play in which the living die. “Each show is a limited run” (Jay Rogoff, Line 9) because life is short and the dying is even shorter.
The title caught me off guard because of the spelling Rogoff chose for theater. I was taught you went to the theatre for a live performance and the theater for a film. I doubt Rogoff means a theater where one views moving picture shows. The title could be hinting at hospital theaters , this would parallel his theme. That would make an interesting twist on the title, if one really looked into it. You can't help but love the ironic playfulness of the title. One expects the theatre to be lively and happy, with more than one performance, yet Rogoff takes that concept and twists it around the concept of death.
Rogoff’s opening phrase “It’s not all tragedy” (1) is already making the statement of how death does not have to be dreary. One could think of death as being something of this big production with a director who is not “averse to melodrama if everyone gets shot” (1, 2). Painting Death with a “top hat and cape, [who] arrive[s] in a hearse” (8) is something that no one ever really does. Death is always depicted as a skeleton in an over-sized hooded robe. Rogoff took that description and yanked it right off the stage with a cane. There is a sense of playfulness, then a sudden stop in the lines “He loves a farce, that nervous frenzy, those doors slamming shut” (5, 6). Going with the theme of death, Rogoff adds words like “hearse/knocking them dead/undertake” (8, 9, 11), which are most associated with deaths’ personification. He turned death into “Mr. Opening Night” (7) who only allows “one performance, curtain up, curtain down” (10).
Death becomes another entity that is there for your whole life and not only the guy who steals it away at the end. He is there when you are born “rebuild[ing] sets, [and] rewrite[ing] lines” (12) with those near death experiences one always is thankful to live through. He gives you this one performance where he“peddles tickets” (12, 13), but then everything comes to a close as the curtain falls for the first and last time. The curtain call happens and he has “pen[ned] reviews in which you shine” (13); that could mean to be the eulogy. In most eulogies the person is always remembered by the good they did and not the bad; so they are always made to shine. Death has the flowers sent on his behalf, making him look remorseful at the prospect of a death. The line where Death “coughs through your big scene” (14) hints at the fact that life is over and you were not expecting it.
This poem has become one of my favorites with the ironic play on death. Rogoff makes death seem not as scary with metaphors that are lined with goodies. He does well to paint a picture of a live performance that stops dead when the curtain closes. This poem shows us that life is only given one performance and we should live as if we will have no other performance, because we won't.