Driving to the funeral home that hollowed-out
morning, my sister and I did not whimper
or howl. We did not curse the five stages
of grief that swept over us, out of order,
like the mungy weather outside: creeping mist,
a jigger of sun, hard rain that cleansed
nothing, clouds, finally dirty puddles
we splashed through like children in denial.
And once inside, in the funeral home basement,
we did not kneel or hum a hymn or snip
a lock of our father’s tumbleweed hair,
or trim his nails, ten slivers of moon and myth
and Danish DNA, into a handkerchief.
Nor did we make a death mask out of exotic
plasters to save his grimaces and grace
in a hatbox, or pretend to trace the pilgrimage
of his soul like a trapped finch squeezing
through a broken transom into the natty
blue beyond. We even forgot to snap
a picture of him on the padded green table.
No bent memento mori to finger later, no blurs
to interpret as vestiges of his spunky aura,
definitely red, or at least orange, haunting
his stilled limbs. I did not beat my breast,
and my sister did not rend her blouse.
Nor did we raise our fists at Heaven or whatever
skates in silence above stained ceiling tiles.
And though I stared at the corner chair,
I did not heave it through the window
in an ecstasy of smashed glass. And my sister
did not slash off her watch and grind its gears
into dust in protest of time slow and time
forever. No, docile as lambs, we dressed
our father in shirt and suit and tasteful tie.
We tucked and smoothed, patted and pressed.
Fixed for the hearse, mouth wired shut,
hands taut, he was ripe for the trek.
We kissed him, both of us, exited, then fell
back into clamor and routine, trading breaths
with a wheezy machine shop and a scented
candle store. And the sun was doing its thing
in earnest now, and we cinched up our seatbelts
and drove slowly home to report the lie
that we and the rest of the world were ready.
Passing the Sacrament in My In-laws’ Garage
I wear a paper mask, Jacqui a festive Aloha mask,
and ten feet away, a card table between us,
sit her parents, both in their nineties, maskless,
too hard to explain the what and why
of the wearing, and we’re listening to “All Creatures
of Our God and King” on Jacqui’s phone.
To keep Covid at bay we use the garage
to bow our heads and lift Jesus to our mouths.
I close the garage door for privacy and open
the back door to coax a breeze playing hard to get.
This is the eucharist, Utah style, with me
preparing bread and water, me kneeling
on concrete, and me passing to a congregation
of three, then taking a scrap himself.
The garbage can, big as a witch’s cauldron, squats
behind my left shoulder, shovels and rakes
line the wall like saints, and three boxes
of slug bait on the shelf haven’t killed anything,
with or without bones, since before 9-11.
Dementia and pandemic are the twin enemies.
We curse the latter and downplay the former.
Never mind that whole countries have evaporated
from my in-laws’ memory banks, goodbye
Thailand, so long Peru, also farewell to continental
drift and Bay of Pigs and the faces of three
adult grandchildren who visited at New Year’s.
No more Harriet Tubman or Ruth Bader
Ginsberg, though Fred Astaire still kindles
something—wait, wasn’t he a general?
Jesus, though, is still here, not homemade
or Wonder but a torn English muffin, and soon
he’ll be four trickles of water in Dixie cups.
And He is summer solstice, our longest day
and shortest night, and He is robin and finch
and sometimes an elegant Steller’s jay ricocheting
tree to tree. And He is the hoe that can chop
weeds till sunset and the broom that sweeps
away mouse droppings and dust balls and crumbs,
and He is this sweet tangle of silver white
lights we’ll drape over the flocked tree
come Christmas. Monkey wrench and vice
grips, Selah, tape measure and twine, Selah.
And He is the dusty blue cruiser bike, tires
still good, hanging from the rafters, ready
at any instant to ferry us to the next life.
Till then, we bow our heads to this glorious
broken now and we ask and we ask and we ask.
Lance Larsen’s most recent collection is What the Body Knows (University of Tampa Press, 2018). He’s won a Pushcart Prize and an NEA fellowship. He teaches at BYU and fools around with aphorisms: “Gesundheit!—as close as I’ve come to Nietzsche and Heidegger in months.”