by Robert Sund
In America, history goes by quickly.
Like a windstorm.
is a coat flattened against my father,
caught in blackberry.
I think of his grave
in the small cemetery outside Elma,
name and dates
carved in the headstone.
I remember the day he was buried by greedy men.
And the day before:
my mother, my brother and his wife, and I,
upstairs in Whiteside’s Funeral Parlor,
followed by the undertaker,
we walked across a lavender carpet
while the pastel lights
sent cheap violins weeping through the air,
trying to break us
between the rows of luxurious coffins.
My mother said, and almost laughed,
"shopping for a coffin,"
before she fell apart, crying in my arms,
trembling into her widowhood.
I said: "Dad hated this . . . Let’s not let them
beat him at the last."
That day we chose the cheapest coffin
this country can make.
I watched the undertaker
wilt into his lavender economy and try to smile.
And my father
grew joyful inside me.
Back out on the street,
my brother shoved the car into second gear,
roaring, "This country
has gone to hell!"
In the back seat, our mother sat quaking
and holding behind a handkerchief her destroyed mouth.
Over the craggy ridges of the handkerchief
her eyes burned shut
and cracked like ashes in the rain.
–another poem from Ish River (1983), collected in Sund’s POEMS FROM ISH RIVER COUNTRY