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
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
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.