Poetry: The Funeral | clivejames.com
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The Funeral

It happens in a freakish early spring,
some little nameless place well off the highway.
From where we're standing we can't be seen.
How we've come to be here's hard to say.
It's lovely, though, the handcarved coffin, the hole
beneath like a shadow standing its ground;
the flowers, formality, and not one soul
missing, as if this town were less a town
than an excuse for funerals; this mute crowd
with its out-of-fashion suits and useless shoes,
the solemnity with which each head is bowed
as one by one, and row by row, they lose
themselves to a keen indigenous grief
that binds them cry to cry and tear to tear,
until its binding is its own relief.
To hear their prayer would be to come too near.
We're glad for it, though, glad for the heaven they hold —
we know they hold — like light behind their eyes,
and by their consolation are consoled
if consolation's what this feeling is
of having something in us jolted awake
like children half-rousing in a fast, dark car,
hearing the tires drone, the dashboard shake,
until it doesn't matter where they are.
And lovely, too, the singing when it starts,
out-of-time, hopelessly out-of-tune,
yet strong, encompassing, as if it came from hearts
that knew as well as loss what loss would be soon —
a stab inside of every dawn at first,
then a scent, maybe, a story someone tells,
and each day a little less, a little more lost,
until finally some dusk they find themselves
standing like strangers at their own dead pain,
without confusion, though, without bitterness,
as if within remembrance itself they sang
that to forget is also to be blessed.
It's over. A whir of gears, a pulley's creak:
the coffin clunks awkwardly into the earth.
Now there's some final ritual thing they speak.
And though it's cost us time it seems well worth
the loss, as like a huge black flower they peel
open from this death so different from our own,
though we can't say exactly what we feel,
and though it's way too late to make it home.