Reverse Suicide by Matt Rasmussen

Matt Rasmussen has written a poem that will stop your breath. Reverse Suicide is a simple yet powerful poem that ends in the most haunting way. The out of order telling adds to the weight of this poem. Events go from negative to unsettling to brutal to hollow to mournful, until we end up alone in the yard with the narrator and his bother wanting to watch the leaves fall back up into the trees.

Welcome to Sunday Morning Lyricality, featuring a weekly song or poem by a Minnesota writer. Kelly Travis is our guest editor

for December—the month of Hanukah, Kwanza, the winter Solstice, and Christmas, the season of candles and lights, and the darkest month of the year. Darkness is sometimes associated with evil, but good, even necessary things happen in the dark. Seeds germinate underground. Night allows us to see stars and moon, makes candlelight inviting, and nudges us into restorative sleep. The womb is dark. Poetry questions our assumptions and biases, urges us to accept complexity. And so this month’s poems invite us to live with and honor the dark, those places of uncomfortable encounter with helplessness and fear, pain and sorrow, grief and rage. Without darkness, renewal doesn’t happen, and concepts like light and hope lose their meaning. 

Sharing grief through poetry unites us by reminding us that we are not alone. A somber poem does not need to give the reader reason to talk, and can instead create a moment of pause to connect us in commemoration of the truth of life’s perplexities.

Matt Rasmussen has written a poem that will stop your breath.

Reverse Suicide is a simple yet powerful poem that ends in the most haunting way. It begins casually, with the event of selling a car. The reader might assume something went wrong with this transaction because the buyer comes back to return the car. This appears to be something minor or annoying at worst. But as each stanza progresses, the reader feels a deepening sense that something is off. The third stanza offers a jarring confirmation: the reader takes each stanza into their temporal lobe and digests the strange events they detail in their frontal lobe until, Eureka!, the reader realizes the events have been told out of order and time is rewinding. The sold car is returned. The narrator and the father wipe the blood back into the seats. Snow falls back into the sky, the suicide becomes unlearned. The reader goes back to the moment: the suicide does not occur, the bullet returns from out of the mouth back into the gun, the victim drives off to commit the act. We arrive back to fall, with the narrator and his sibling take the leaves they raked out of the lawn bags. 

The out of order telling adds to the weight of this poem: the separation, the wanting go back or at least to live life before the world flips inside out.  The simplicity of the stanzas and the bareness of words make the telling of this event so grave. Events go from negative to unsettling to brutal to hollow to mournful, until we end up alone in the yard with the narrator and his bother wanting to watch the leaves fall back up into the trees.

Kelly Travis

Reverse Suicide
Matt Rasmussen

The guy Dad sold your car to
comes back to get his money,

leaves the car. With filthy rags
we rub it down until it doesn’t shine

and wipe your blood into
the seams of the seat.

each snowflake stirs before
lifting into the sky as I

learn you won’t be dead.
The unsuffering ends

when the mess of your head
pulls together around

a bullet in your mouth.
You spit it into Dad’s gun

before arriving in the driveway
while the evening brightens

and we pour bag after bag
of leaves on the lawn,

waiting for them to leap
onto the bare branches.


Matt Rasmussen’s poetry has appeared in Gulf CoastH_NGM_N, and at A founding coeditor of Birds LLC, a small, independent poetry press, he is a 2012–2013 McKnight Artist Fellow and teaches at Gustavus Adolphus College.

“Reverse Suicide” by Matt Rasmussen is from Black Aperture (LSU Press, 2013), winner of the Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets and Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Lyricality celebrates the truth-telling impulse inherent in poetry, because truth–even difficult truth–liberates us from the power of misinformation and untruth to negatively effect our choices and behavior. We therefore want to take this opportunity to debunk the myth that suicide rates climb during holidays. For decades, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data show that the holiday season usually has the lowest monthly suicide rate.  If you are in, or know of someone who is in potential crisis, here are resources offering valuable information:

The Suicide Prevention Resource Center

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK. 

May our poems, songs, words and actions increase caring,
grow resilience, and inspire hope.  (Tracy Rittmueller, Director, Lyricality)
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