Funerals

in our village are short and to the point.   
While the mourners are finding their seats   
Etta Andrews plays “Now the Day Is Over.”
No one is ashamed to wipe his or her eyes.   
Then the Reverend stands up and reads   
the Lord’s Prayer with the mourners   
speaking it with him. Then there is a hymn,   
usually “Rock of Ages” or one chosen by   
the wife of the deceased. The deceased,   
I might say, is never present, except for   
an urn prepared by Mr. Torrant, who is   
always squinting. Next there are remarks   
by the Reverend. He is a kind man and   
can be relied upon to say something nice   
about the life of the departed, no matter
how much he may have been scorned or even   
disliked.

The Reverend’s eulogies are so much the   
same, with appropriate readings from scripture,   
that I gave up listening to them years ago.   
Instead, unheard, I eulogize myself,   
the real picture of how I’ve been in   
the village. I admit that I was self-satisfied   
and arrogant. I didn’t go to much pains   
to provide diversions for my wife. When   
the children and grandchildren came for visits   
I lectured them and pointed out their faults.   
I made appropriate contributions to the   
local charities but without much enthusiasm.   
I snubbed people who bored me and avoided   
parties. I was considerate to the people   
who worked in the post office. I complained
a great deal about my ailments. When I’m   
asked how I’m doing, I reply that I’m   
not getting any younger. This inveterate   
response has become a bore in the village.

After the Reverend’s eulogy is over
there is another hymn, and the benediction.   
As they leave everyone, except me, presses   
the flesh of the bereaved with appropriate   
utterances. But I get away as quickly as   
I can. If they don’t bore me I like   
almost all the people in the village.   
But as they go, I tick them off. I’ve   
been to at least fifty funerals. When   
will mine be?

James Laughlin, “Funerals” from Poems New and Selected. Copyright © 1996 by James Laughlin. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: Poems New and Selected (1998)
More Poems by James Laughlin