The Ignominy of the Living
Norris, Kathleen (1947-)

The Undertaker had placed pink netting
around your face.  I removed it
and gave you a small bouquet, encumbering you
into eternity.  "Impedimenta," I hear you say,
scornfully, the way you said it at Penn Station
when we struggled to put your bag onto a contraption
of cords and wheels.  "Laurel and Hardy got paid for this,"
I said the third time it fell off,
narrowly missing my foot.

You would have laughed
at the place we brought you to, the hush of carpet,
violins sliding through "The Way We Were,"
"Please turn the music off," I said, civilly,
to the undertaker's assistant.
We had an open grave--no artificial turf--
and your friends lowered you into the ground.

Once you dreamed your mother sweeping
an earthen floor
in a dark, low-ceilinged room.
I see her now:  I, too, want to run.
And the "ignominy of the living,"
words you nearly spat out
when one of your beloved dead
was ill-remembered;  I thought of that
as I removed the netting.

Today I passed St. Mary's
as the Angelus sounded.
You would have liked that, the ancient practice
in the prairie town not a hundred years old,
the world careering disastrously toward the twenty-first century.
I stopped and prayed for you.
Then a recording of "My Way" came scratching out
on the electronic carillon.
"Oh, hell," I said,
and prayed for Frank Sinatra, too.

The New Yorker, May 29, 1989, page 40