Colin Pope

These poems are excerpts from Pope's new book Why I Didn’t Go to Your Funeral out on Tulson Books this month! Get a copy here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781948800228/why-i-didnt-go-to-your-funeral.aspx

Impasto

I arrived before makeup and haircut,

before they massaged the bruises away

or even latched the eyelids shut, so

I could almost divine in her dried, corneal glass

the distant horizon she escaped toward, like the dust

kicked up from black hoofbeats

hung yet over a darkening plain; I took a picture

because I didn’t know what else to do.

This was in the “slumber room,”

after the morticians slid their latex hands

across her landscape;

I took a picture

because I didn’t know what else to do.

Someone had tucked her up to the chin

with a red blanket, like a red satire of sleep.

Her forehead cold against my lips;

I didn’t need to know how it felt

until after the feeling was inside me, kissing

a wall between howl and silence and then

I didn’t need to know.

High on the observation deck,

you press against skyscraper window

to wonder down at whoever looks like ants.

But then all that matters

is the cold against your skin. Like that:

you couldn’t delete her picture either, for fear

of not knowing what spectacle to commemorate.

Or how about I visited home one year

and from between the pages

of some children’s book, a crimson maple leaf

fluttered to the carpet like a great, peeled scab.

It came from a day I desperately wanted

to tattoo, to remember

yet didn’t, and instead I found secreted

in that shrunken bedroom the memory

of the person who deposited himself

inside symbol.

Be careful what you think, I thought to myself.

Nobody tells you the way to see the beloved dead;

you look, and your mourning withers and falls

and all you want is a relic of the belief

that there are no wrong answers when it comes

to relinquishing love.

After the atomic bomb

sears shadows into the wooden siding of the barn,

you don’t scrub them away. And you couldn’t

delete her picture either, even stumbling upon it

years later, among a folder of images

from your niece’s ballet recital.

I was hunting a series of moments

that equaled one another, that didn’t drain time

to a white-knuckled choke. I’ve tried to erase

that last picture. But I want to know what it’s like

to be all of me remembered. That red blanket and—

I promise—a little grin she meant me to keep.

Variations on Trouble

Of course, this is language’s fault,

or the fault of everyone who ever taught anyone

to use it inaccurately, or knowing that it is

inaccurate, using it anyway. How to define

my aunt, for example, recovering from cancer

in Albany when her treatment uncoiled inside her

and struck her dead like a blown spring.

This is tragedy, because it is also

irony. Or, receiving a phone call

from my girlfriend’s ex-husband late at night

to hear that she leapt from the Earth

on the end of a short rope: this is for me,

my own sharp inheritance of time

called crisis. It is also disaster, as in the crumbling

of one world to reveal a molten sadness beneath.

The fortress of days that build themselves

so high I can’t see their steeples: this is calamity, woe,

distress. And then others arrive, literal agents

of death: policeman, doctor, coroner, grief

counselor, undertaker, incinerator, all of whom

see this as dilemma. This is the modern term

for what we’ve got, as in modern war, how

the living are burned along with the dead. Departing

from form into mass, from material into immaterial

like sand into glass; this is misfortune. The witnessing

of heartache within your own chest: this is pain

which, as everyone knows, is too simple a concept

to need a word. Always this flatness of speech,

crisp at its edges and trampled underfoot

before it’s ground into the cold surface of fate.

This is trouble: people gathered together to speak

to a cake of earth on the eve of something new,

people falling silent. People alone in their houses

with a feeling that there’s something they’ve learned,

something so big it empties the room and nobody,

nobody able to find the words to talk about it.

If You End Beneath the Big Grave on the Hill

Whatever you do, don’t lord it over the others,

the lawn-levels, the flushes, the pillow markers.

If you’re marble, don’t intimate the richness

in your veins. Be granite of spirit, igneous,

plain and forgiving as an unopened book.

Like a fat god, you’ll never have to move.

Your acolytes will arrive with tribute: bouquets,

lanterns, stacks of coins spread out like a golden quilt.

With time, you’ll learn how to decipher

what each of these people need

by how light catches in the wet soffits

of their eyes. They come to gaze into your face

and dream, their emptied passenger seats

and wedding tables and rocking chairs

filled with whatever magic you can muster. Tempting

to tell them some green and hopeful lie, but shut up.

Recall that right after Love is patient, love is kind,

the scripture promises where there are tongues,

they will be stilled. Nobody remembers,

so they’ll speak to you as lunatics to a brick wall.

Be still. Be kind. They want a sliver of a star

to be secreted inside you, something that sings

when it shines. Let them believe. And don’t heed

the white screams of crows. Don’t crumble.

Don’t forfeit your meaning when a belt of moss

tickles the tethers of your waist. You have

only two jobs: to stand, and to not fall down. No,

they’re not the same. One you do for yourself,

the other you do for the person inscribed

in your chest. Yet be aware you may

never know what you say. A graveyard

is a city of reflection without mirrors.

But if you’re really lucky, one day

a curious child might come to take you away

rubbed with black coal on a sheet of rice paper.

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