When The Time Comes by Hank Lazer


A book-length meditation on the final weeks of the poet’s mother, Wendy Lazer, Hank Lazer’s WHEN THE TIME COMES offers a clear-eyed witnessing of the dissolving of a life.  As in the Zen priest Joan Halifax’s book title, Being with Dying, Lazer’s poems attempt to do just that: to embrace and be with the mystery of his mother’s dying.  Lazer tells portions of his mother’s richly active 90 years of life, though his primary attention is to the specific circumstances of her dying, especially the enigmatic syllable that his mother kept repeating.  The initial long poem, “Deathwatch for My Mother, Wendy Lazer,” takes its place beside the long poem, “Deathwatch for My Father,” that Lazer wrote during the final months of his father’s life in 1995-96.  “And Then,” the concluding section of WHEN THE TIME COMES, asks about the value of words and poems in the face of the death of a loved one and wonders of what use or interest are poems about the death of someone else’s loved one.  Lazer’s book of poems is a close-up study of a particular version of the pathway that all of us who enjoy the miracle of incarnation must go down.  Compassion, community, acceptance, and peace remain possibilities by not turning away from the transition from alive to dead.

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  • Kind: Perfectbound
  • Pages: 84
  • Language: English
  • Date Published: April, 2022
  • ISBN 978-1-953252-51-7


When the Time Comes is an account of Hank Lazer’s death watch for his mother, bringing to memory a related series of poems written for his father. These near-death poems bring us close. For as different and unchartered as each death is, a point of contact is shared. Lazer’s poems of mourning make that indelible. —Charles Bernstein

I just finished reading When the Time Comes.  It’s so deeply felt, so fully worked through. The emotions, conjectures, fears, silences, all held together by that painfully mysterious sound “ma.” Truly a wonderful poem.  It stands firmly alongside Reznikoff’s ostensibly different but secretly similar Kaddish for his mother. This is the work we are called to perform as we lose our mothers. You have completed the assignment with grace and clarity. —Stephen Fredman

It is said that when one person bears witness to another’s dying one comes as close as any living creature can to Mystery. Some call that mystery G-d, others call it the real or eternity, but regardless of what one calls it, that something is finally ineffable — which makes what Hank Lazer has done in When the Time Comes all the more impressive and crucial. Lazer writes into the interval where “the wind makes a sound / the dove makes a sound / & you contribute your syllable / to an audible composition” — where “klonopin   & another new // anti-psychotic barely touch / you     every five seconds / you croak out a steady / syllable    ma   ma   ma.” Limning the space where “presence / ignorance / & limitation” intertwine, he attentively and tenderly enacts Stevens’ listener (nothing himself) who beholds nothing that is not there and the nothing that is, providing us with “a glimpse / of the mystery / all that our eyes can bear.’” —Donna de la Perrière

Hank Lazer has written many great poems, many great books. The art of attention—the strength and willingness to listen and see and wait and think and listen and see and wait and notice everything—enacts and embodies the emotion (the search) animating his poems. How does loss become spirit? How does meaning resist itself and unravel itself and return to absolute beginning? The poem, Stevens wrote, is the cry of its occasion. In “Deathwatch for my Mother, Wendy Lazer,” Lazer traces the cry: here, poetry is at the edge of what language can do. Lazer’s love and patient attention give a breathtaking gift to all of us. When the Time Comes is a masterpiece, stretching language and witness and the self, making magical art out of the common morning. —Joseph Lease


mind the affectation
mind pride of knowing &
choosing you were so
very bright & you remained

hidden from yourself
mind now stuck on one
syllable ever
adventurous you have gone

as far as you can
we wave from the shore
lord of sorrow
compels your simple song


Hank LazerHank Lazer has published thirty-three books of poetry, including field recordings   of mind   in morning (2021, BlazeVOX – with 15 music-poetry tracks with Holland Hopson on banjo – available from Bandcamp), COVID 19 SUTRAS (2020, Lavender Ink), Slowly Becoming Awake (N32) (2019, Dos Madres Press), Poems That Look Just Like Poems (2019, PURH – one volume in English, one in French), Evidence of Being Here: Beginning in Havana (N27), (2018, Negative Capability Press), Thinking in Jewish (N20) (2017, Lavender Ink). Lazer has performed jazz-poetry improvisations in the US and Cuba with musicians Davey Williams, Omar Pérez, Andrew Raffo Dewar, Holland Hopson, and others. Lazer’s Brush Mind books have been transformed into video installations and performances in several art gallery venues. In 2015, Lazer received Alabama’s most prestigious literary prize, the Harper Lee Award, for lifetime achievement in literature. Lazer has been quarantining in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and at Duncan Farm in Carrollton, Alabama. To order books, learn about talks, readings, and workshops, and see photos of Duncan Farm see Lazer’s website: https://www.hanklazer.com

Additional information

Weight 5.9 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in