The Weekly Poem: “Vigils”

[Happy Daylight Saving Time! With it, I announce my new goal: A submission a day, a poem a week, a story a month, a book a year. Let’s do this thing already!]

vigils

Vigils

Vigils are interesting.

Why always at night?

To be sadder, more dramatic?

People can mourn in the morning,

die during the day,

get introspective anywhere.

The candles wouldn’t even need to be lit

if the sun was up.

 

It struck me as

an inelegant elegy, a premature retrospective.

The funeral frontloaded and publicized.

A pat aftermath of fundraisers and belated favors.

 

Not insensitive, just intrigued.

Numb to the inevitable.

Always staring more than sharing

in a loss.

 

So when I did attend one,

the college President having passed to cancer a weekend prior,

I wanted to care—and did.

Still, a sense of intrusion loomed over me

as I marched to the plaza—

no tale to tell, no anecdote to impart.

As if spectating carried a scent

and out I’d be found.

 

But it didn’t matter.

It wasn’t cresting the hill

and seeing the place packed with solemn students.

Or the emcee’s invocation,

to thank us all for coming

and just wanting to say a few words before we all began.

Nor the moment of silence.

 

No, it’s the motions and emotions

only presence can capture.

Not the photographer’s exhibit of a tear-hardened cheek

or the paper’s front-page summary,

relegated to rusty coffee shop news-racks.

Sadness spreads,

and who we keep in our thoughts could fill a whole shelter,

but there’s no honor by proxy, no tristesse à deux.

 

It’s the prone canvas of handwritten hopes, thanks, and well-wishes

on a foldout table to the side—

the eulogy democratized, a technicolor tombstone.

It’s the tremble of a dozen hands as they pen condolences,

and the shades chosen:

Black (traditional),

orange for vitality, pink for love, blue for hope.

It’s a tall Tupperware subbing as a donation box,

aflow with crisp and crumpled bills alike.

To attend is free, but everyone will contribute.

It’s how a man speaks about What She Meant to Me,

 

and, candle in hand, my pedantry melts in kind.

The weeping wax is a quick pinch

of the thumb en route to concrete,

and I should have known

 

we sleepwalk through work, play, and three square meals,

only to truly wake in the lonesome, cold, and eerie hours.

Death is a tide that stains instead of cleanses,

and the waves crash by dark

yet recede by day.

We can’t stop the storms, but we can build each-other lighthouses.

One wick to another, pale palms raised

to signal shore:

Faith. Thankfulness. Perspective.

 

The band lilts, coaxing notes

to lay a hand on bucking shoulders.

A sheet of music draped over the coffin to come.

There are minds and souls here, but no body,

and nobody is leaving just yet.

 

We are one wonder less,

wonderless the world still turns.

Better to learn it together,

to feel around emptiness and still take something out of it,

because memory is not a spectator sport.

– – –

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