Thursday, October 30, 2008

Thus He Endured by Stephen Dobyns

Heart's friend Greasy gets nixed by a stroke.
His pals give him a wake; they drink all night.
The next day they cart the coffin to the church.
In life, Greasy waxed cars; now he's defunct.
The priest says how Greasy's in a better place.
Heart takes exception. What could beat this?
Some mourners weep; others scratch their butts.
In life, Greasy was a practical joker. Even salt
in the sugar bowl wasn't too childish for him.
When the service is over, Heart and five friends
heave the coffin on top of their shoulders.
Outside it's raining. They wait for the hearse.
Maybe it's late, maybe it showed up and left.
The priest locks the church. The last cars depart.
Let's carry the coffin, it's just a few blocks.
As they set off, Heart hears a whistle. Show some
respect, he complains to a buddy in back.
In life, Greasy often asked, What's the point
and What comes next? Heart thought his jokes
helped keep the dark at arm's length. Rain drips
down the pallbearer's necks. Because of the fog
they can't see beyond their noses. Right or left?
If their hands weren't full, they would flip a coin.
Someone plays the harmonica, then starts to sing.
The pallbearers look at each other, it's none of them.
In life, Greasy reached three score years and ten.
He had a wife, four sons, and five Great Danes,
but not all at once. He always drove a Chevrolet.
Did we take a wrong turn? Asks Heart. The rain
turns to sleet; it's getting dark. Someone starts
playing the trombone. A tune both melancholy
and upbeat. Where could it be coming from?
In life, Greasy felt a lack. He worked too hard,
the holidays were short. His wife kept asking
why didn't he do better? Then his sons left home.
Greasy stuck rubber dog messes on the hoods
of his friends' cars. This is what life's all about,
he'd think. Thus he endured. It begins to snow.
Heart shoulders his load. The sun goes down.
Will Greasy get planted today? It looks unlikely.
Heart watches the road. He can't see that the coffin lid
is tilted up and Greasy perches on top, just a shadow
of his former self. With both hands he flings wads
of confetti. He's a skeleton already. Heart would
scratch his head but he'd hate to let his corner drop,
his pals ditto: pallbearers envying the one who rides.

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