January, 1982

We followed the hearse along the bumpy churt road as
light rain descended and a north wind slashed the January day.
Such a sad time you chose to die,
with the cloak of winter drawn tightly around these barren
plains and nude black forests;
perhaps you could have lived on until spring,
but you were ready to go--I saw it in your eyes that last time,
standing in that room of tubes and odd machines,
machines given birth by men bent on depriving the Victor.
There you lay impaled in wondrous horror,
living by small drips and drains and pumps that played
Death's rhythm, your faltering spirit dancing across a screen.
I saw it then across that terrible and obscene place,
saw it in your eyes gone faded and blue as a tired sky,
eyes that spoke more across that place of wonders
that all the words in all the books I ever read.
And I, the eldest and perhaps the weakest,
could do no more than swallow the great lump rising
like bile in my throat--A cluster of three words
that sought release but could not find it,
for I knew that in their vain rush my words would fall
like a child's toy into the eloquent pool of your dying eyes.
I found no courage there on the final ground,
no heart for the match.
Seeing you on the edge of your grand revelation
brought thoughts of my own mortality,
of my own moment of wonder to come--
surrounded by my children, my life seeping out in the
vapors of some sterile room perhaps yet unmade,
recording some final memory through silent eyes to take to oblivion.
And then in a flash I saw stainless steel tables and dead flesh,
prodding tubes and drains and somber-faced men
dressing me (or was it you?) in unfamiliar clothing.
I knew fear then and wept of it.
There was nothing more to do but flee,
with one glance back at your twisted form;
I burned forever into my mind that track of dried blood
running from your nostril,
the painful heave of your forced lungs,
that last pathetic pat upon my hand as I said
I would see you soon,
not knowing how soon and that you would not see me.
You were more peaceful the next time,
There in the funeral home beneath peach light and guilt,
lying there among folds of white satin beneath the flag
for which you fought on frozen fields in a place
and a time so long ago and yet so real.
Funeral homes are like dances in three-quarter time,
people move slowly and gather in murmuring clumps
and glance about under hooded brows as though Old Scratch
might be sizing them up and they fear drawing attention.
I should ask you--is death worth all the reverence and
awe we bestow upon it?
They come and gaze down at what you were,
they make small comments and pat our backs and
sympathize with that kind of empty grief so common.
They reminisce and tell stories of you, the old uncles,
and after a while we sit and listen to a man who never knew
you speak of who you were in this time.
According to the man you found salvation before the end,
and thus you are numbered among those who will fly eternally;
a blessing at least to your ancient mother, my grandmother,
who is burying her last son this day.
I am not so certain of magic and mystical carpet rides
but she had lived more than 80 years as a staunch Baptist
and to her it all means something very real.
She will have you close by finally, she can visit you on
sunny Sunday afternoons and never have to lie awake
and worry and wonder where you are, and how you are.
How sad it is to outlive one's own children,
how sad it is to see the flesh of your flesh placed away
forever from sight--
But not to the old believers, and she is one;
she will part the curtain one day soon and
find the family waiting, this she believes with all her heart.
And so you are gone, you are no more.
You have returned to the dust of the ages as must we all.
You were a timeless creation, known only for a moment.
There can be no more of you,
but there can be no less than all you left behind.
That can be found in the smiles of my children,
and theirs to come.
And that is enough.

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