Stiff

stiff

stiff

At the funeral mass

the mourners cringe and

blow their noses

during the Ave Maria

when the soloist

strains harder to hit high C

--and misses

than we do to force tears.

(church sopranos are notorious for it)


Last night at the wake

(why not the sleep?)

the widow’s friends

marveled, just out of earshot

amidst naughty coffee breath snickers

how much better he looked dead

his face now forever frozen

without that perennial pucker,

like someone sucking dry

an off-season lime.


But with a grave, gray nod now

we grow sober,

wax and wane

and rearrange ourselves

in asphalt rank and limo file

while a grim faced suit with a magnetic flag

vaguely points like some soft hand reaper

towards the gravestone garden

growing fast and weedy

below the dirty dishwater sky.


We migrate like so many ugly black birds

flapping and flocking around the planter

feathered and weathered

and waiting to take our turns

lying boxed beneath layers of

haphazardly strewn

supposed roses

smelling of refrigeration

and forced into premature bloom.


Dry-eyed beneath our sunglasses

we hide faces repossessed by our fathers

(it takes a funeral to notice it)

the lines leftover from expressions worn most often

the blurred jaws, the sudden paunches

the blinking back the shock

as heavy cemetery bells toll out

another Ave Maria

this one cast iron

dead on

and pregnant with decay.


He was a navy man, so naturally

there was the perfectly folded flag

the dry stranger salute

the disappointing absence

of a twenty one gun salute—

It’s Tuesday and there ain’t enough guys

unless the Stiff’s wearing stars and bars.


Trancelike, the widow’s arms cradle

the triangular hunk of canvas

(when unwound,

it’s long as a coffin)

she’s thinking this while

memorizing nearby names

to help her find her way back

to this ugly stamp of mud

should she get the feeling

she left something behind.

© 2010 susan beck

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Comments 6 comments

Steele Fields profile image

Steele Fields 6 years ago from drexel hill,pa Author

You mean the poem or death itself?


ralwus 6 years ago

i see it darkly


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

me like this kind of stuff - then again you are writing the right stufffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff


Steele Fields profile image

Steele Fields 6 years ago from drexel hill,pa Author

Wow, thanks for the kind words. I wrote this after my best friend's father died. He was not well liked by anyone (except his wife ) and it was hard for many of the mourners to actually actually mourn at the funeral. For some reason this inspired me. Go figure.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 6 years ago

one of my all time favorites here at hubpages - you rule this space that's for sure - and it inspires me to write!

(more)

I am not stiff after reading this - the mortal coil still needs me to follow you .......


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 6 years ago from Texas

Thumbs up....your style and words put there in the pew beside you...I love hint cynicism that seems to flavor throughout! WB

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