Paul Blackburn


16 from The Selection of Heaven

w o r d s    :     should have been spoken at graveside

There are no true voices anymore, John
Henry, you knucklehead, you hard-
headed, stiff-backed, tough-minded old man, your
                            mouth is clenched tight for good
                            it is a solid line

from under your sharpened nose around your pointed chin, above
the strong, kind, (remembered), and finally closed eyes,
the dead tissues under the skull that were your brain
softened finally with your      88        years

into a forgetfulness your children could
relate to, could pity, could and did
expiate themselves upon, so
                           accept their own lives

for what they had become or grown to,
John, you knucklehead, you bonehead, in
the old photographs you are more often
                           scowling, when the others
are smiling bravely into the bright sun

                                                         You quarreled
with everyone you loved and were proud
when your children fought you back with brain and spirit
and were hurt, of course you were hurt
                        by it, and loved them     .       You
had made them irrevocably yours you would have said God's

and that's not true, and your mouth is closed for good
upon the air of this world, your hands     not
                        folded in eternity as that
                        cliche-ridden, pompous, minister
friend of yours who did you final service might
have said had he the gift of words, but
clenched, holding your heaven to you;
swollen farmer's hands that had been kinder than your mind was
clenched in eternity the rock of your mind
that could not crack and open but
still clenched dissolved under the rain of years

the head still,
straight white hair still handsome     .       4
generations gathered rou
nd a coffin yesterday to pay
what truly was respect and sometimes love,     the
different qualities of flesh
                                  from ruined to what
                         renews itself each day, and grows, John,
stood there and did you honor     .     Rocks

\wear away under the rain    .     Flesh is tough
          the spirit
resilient     .     tougher than flesh   .    They
said you looked natural
and in their mouths it
was comforting cliché    .     The words
were truer than they knew, you still looked
                        stiff-backed, hard-headed,
                        but the spirit gone, that blur,
a peace

E A R T H    T O     E A R T H

be here at this graveside .
Not in the cut flowers the undertakers' men heaped up
but in the new forsythia, red maple
                           buds, magnolia, be
                           in the spring earth
will heap this grave, grow new grass over it,
golden green of willow starting fresh    .     be
                           in the spring earth with John,
your faithful servant,
where he will lie
next to Hannah as he did in life, her
                           eternal lover     .      Lock them
                           forever into this hillside
facing the Acushnet gulls settle on,
         wheel over crying, hear them in the
distance .

         Smoke rises
from between my forefinger
and middlefinger    .     Wind on this
Cold spring hillside sweeps it off
barely visible in the sunlight

the ashes
fall upon new grass .

A S H E S     TO     A S H E S

forgive the carpet of phoney grass
                           too dark for the season
the undertakers spread beneath your
coffin for this moment   .    We have
seen you to this hillside, let it be
enough    .     Forgive
the Reverend Doctor his recitation
of    2     Edgar Guest poems yesterday, I
figured I could stand it if you could   .   The rain
of dirt and pebbles will be real enough .
                            fresh clods set in
                            after you have settled    .     Rain
                                               but will wear away .
The committing ceremony had the
dignity of its own
                         words, yesterday,
despite the use of flowers with their snapped-off heads
instead of fistfuls of earth    .     EARTH .
When the diggers end the job, let
the first 3 shovelsful of spring earth
be my shovelsful, let it be enough
D U S T    TO    D U S T

                                consigning    .     I
have not willed the occasion for these words
which cry themselves like hunting gulls
my mouth flapping open     .      GOD,
welcome your servant John Henry
into whatever Paradise he thought existed,
offer him
the best accomodation that you have for such a
                                         lover of the mind     .     God
                                         knows he has earned it,
                                  twice over .
Let there be soft
where he is, let him hear gulls cry
above the
                                  and be home.