by Richard Hartwell
He kept pushing a rosewood coffin, velvet lined, brass fittings, turned handles.
This for a man who spent his life on a dairy farm and in a GP plywood mill
Surrounded by mountains of Douglas fir. After several times confirming Frannie
Couldn’t, shouldn’t afford such ostentation, even if she knew what it was, even for Roxie.
Like a morning-after gorge, choking his business persona kept rising, eager
For the silver of death’s entrails. Asking Fran to take a break, grab a cigarette
Outside in the Monday fog, I puffed myself up to confront this funeral director
Responsible for burying her husband -- father of eleven, my friend -- for pay.
From this distance of decades, there’s no recall what was a just, reasonable, proper,
Charge to bury a man, dollars due. Knowing what Fran had, or didn’t have.
I do recall writing a check, passing it over, cautioning that my help bridging her need,
Was to go unremarked. So when Fran returned, costs had been recomputed,
Benevolence for the death of a Veteran. Frannie handed over dribbles and drabs,
Ones and fives, a few tens, crumpled: egg or baking or tax money. Who knew?
Don’t believe she ever found out my part, guessed perhaps, but without confirmation.
Must have been other warnings from this that I didn’t heed or read in the contract.
Funeral was subject to more suspicion, the god’s were screwing with Roxie’s last day
Above ground, below heaven, depending on your jaundiced point of view.
As a military funeral conducted with grace, pomp, and ceremony, it left open
Possibilities for vast improvement. From the Coast Guard Station in Coos Bay
A burial detail. Class As soggy in a typical Oregon shower, they didn’t present
What television or Hollywood sees. I acknowledge that they tried, but collective
Strides were individualized, un-syncopated, beaten out by the disparate firings,
Multiplied echoes of a rifled salute. If what they sought was to arrange a
Rhythmic flourish, they failed. If what we sought was offering our personal prayers,
Perhaps we succeeded, some of us, for Roxie.