Sunday, October 25, 2009
Funeral Blues 1: The Doggerel In The Yard
The Doggerel In The Yard
A poem based on an opening stanza by William Ernest Henley
Madam Life’s a piece in bloom,
Death goes dogging everywhere:
She’s the tenant of the room,
He’s the ruffian on the stair.
Me, I’m just the guy in black
Training up to Boston, Mass.
Ruffian took my Uncle Jack:
Time to kick his thieving ass.
Cousin Brian kicks him first.
When his Dad’s in coma slipping,
He says: “No more getting nursed.
To my place this guy we’re shipping.
“When the second word is Home
And the first is The or Nursing,
Life is like a catacomb:
Death is what each life’s rehearsing.
“If I let my Dad stay there?
Call me ingrate, bastard, louse.
I’m his son. Because I care,
I want him back at my house.”
So he takes my fading uncle
In a special ambulance.
It’s amazing what pure spunk’ll
Do to make stiff nurses dance.
On the drive, my cousin Bri
Props Jack up while car’s in motion --
Lets him see the cloud-flecked sky,
Trees and houses, breach and ocean.
Sets him up in house to lie
Where his sons and children (grand)
Can his passing dignify
With a touch of lip or hand.
Daddy says “Your grandpa’s dying.”
Grandson Connor, face adoring,
Stands and stares – no tears, no sighing –
Shrugs and mutters, “Kinda boring.”
Charlotte sits and (swear to God)
Says, “Okay, our marriage sucked.
But the three boys that we raised?
Gotta tell you – out we lucked.”
Brian’s wife says thanks for Brian.
Joseph’s girls lean down and kiss.
Kelley? Kendall? Can’t stop cryin’.
So it goes at times like this:
Straight-laced aunts of morals strict
Curse like losers at roulette;
Uncles old who cancer licked
Ask you for a cigarette;
Strong hearts crack and spill like eggs;
Weak hearts rise up straight and tall;
Slow and frail will find their legs;
Marathoners fade or fall.
Those who never let you in?
Suddenly it’s Open House.
Those so sweet it’s saccharine?
Everything’s complain and grouse.
No one can predict or know
What the grief of death will do:
Suck you down like undertow
Or write out an IOU.
Either way its day will come --
May take seconds, may take years --
Steady, shattered, weepy, numb:
All will end in healthy tears.
Never think you’re hard and cold
If you see it’s calm you’re keeping,
Or believe you’re uncontrolled
When it’s buckets that you’re weeping.
Each of us greets death alone
And alone we feel its weight,
Heavy like a crown or throne
That we cannot abdicate.
Rule we must so rule we do:
So it goes while we’re alive --
Death will always try a coup;
We’ll defeat it and survive
Till we don’t. So goes the story.
It’s the same in field or town:
Funeral home or crematory --
Ashes, ashes, all fall down.
Do we rise up, having fallen?
Does God say to Death, “Touchè?”
Do our souls sprout up like pollen
En jardin d’éternité?
Madam Life may know the answer
But her flirting drives you nuts:
Woos you like a taxi dancer;
Leaves you walking home with Buts.
Ruffian Death says “She’s a teaser.
I’m the only end you get.”
But he’s just a Little Caesar
Who gets off on pain and threat.
So we stand, constrained between
One and the other on the stair,
While behind them, barely seen,
Shadows flicker everywhere.
Are they pardoned or convicted?
Do they beckon? Do they sneer?
Won’t know till we get evicted
And perceive the building clear.