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.”