I was informed by a poem* this morning
that there is a coffin shortage in New York,
perhaps because too many people have died
at an inconvenient time
or that more people, in good economic times
can afford a box and a hole in the ground
in a dead peoples’ park.
Whatever the reason, cremation seems an option;
we know from history the efficiency of crematoriums,
though the idea of stacked dead bodies
all vaporized at once, causes trauma for some,
and how would anyone know your ashes from mine,
in case they wanted to keep them on a bookshelf
or offer them to a Ghost Ranch wind?
A solution came to mind while on a walk this morning
down a country road with my dog
who found the remains of a pheasant in the ditch,
reduced to scattered feathers, each a thing of beauty,
the pheasant’s carcass having been carried off,
not even a bone remaining.
And the thought occurred to me, well, why not my body,
stripped naked, un-embalmed, thrown into a meadow or woods
where my flesh might be eaten, a banquet shared
by a passing coyote, a murder of crows, field mice
and a variety of bugs and worms and microbes.
Not realistic, perhaps. I know most people out hiking
or cutting firewood or mushroom hunting,
would be startled by the sight and smell, enough so
they would not even be aware of a flock of crows,
beautifully iridescent in sunlight, perched above them,
or shiny-coated coyotes singing songs of the dead,
the Gregorian hum of insects,
all promising new life to the lifeless, while somewhere
the animal that weeps, weeps in a dark room of a quiet house.
*Time(s) by Amanda Yskamp
Author’s Comment: Inspired by “Time”, a poem by Amanda Yskamp. I truly wish my body could be disposed of in the way my poem describes.
I just thought I’d tell you about two muskrats
I saw swimming in the pond this morning,
frantically swimming toward each other, then away,
splashing water like I’ve never seen muskrats splash,
a watery mating dance.
I saw one of the muskrats climb up on the shore
of the little island in the pond, then disappear
in a cave of sorts beneath a fallen tamarack’s roots,
near the old beaver lodge,
the same place I saw a mink pop out of yesterday.
And sure enough, a few seconds later the mink appears,
runs through the reeds and cattails, out of my sight.
I thought I’d tell you about the muskrats and mink
to take your mind off chemical weapons and missile strikes,
children drowning in the Mediterranean, school shootings,
coal mine tailings being dumped in streams again,
elephants and tigers becoming extinct
and people being arrested on the streets
for doing the work we don’t want to do
to feed and clothe and house and educate their children.
Author’s Comment: Based on an actual siting of muskrats and mink in the pond in my back yard which took a new turn of its own accord. I just follow where the poem leads.
MY MOTHER’S WORST NIGHTMARE
In 1956, when we lived close to the railroad tracks in north St. Cloud,
bums and tramps and hobos came to our back door looking for a meal.
My mother, old enough to remember the displaced men of the Depression,
always gave them something to eat, though she had four of her own to feed.
She never let my brother and me talk to them,
afraid they’d fill our heads with a yearning, a romance with the rails
and a taste for the music of steel wheels and freight train whistles,
which did not fit the vision she had for our futures.
But later at night, my brother and I and our neighborhood gang
snuck over to the hobo camp behind the abandoned broom factory,
our curiosity burning as brightly as the vagabonds’ camp fire,
caught up in the clackety-clack and whistle of train music.
And damn, wouldn’t you know that in 1967, the summer before I was drafted,
I found myself drinking wine from a bottle in a boxcar
as the Montana prairie blurred by, one of the best days in my life,
though Mother would have cried had she known.
I never begged for a handout, but I did camp beside the railroad tracks
that summer before my sophomore year in college,
an English major who learned more about poetry in a boxcar
than he ever did from studying the English Romantics,
though I suspect Keats and Wordsworth might have bummed with me
and I’m damn sure Keroac would have had he not been busy on the highways.
Author’s Comment: Yes, indeed, I did hop a few trains back in the day. Though I never became a financial success in life, my mother would be so proud of her poet son. Obviously a biographical work.
Bio: Larry Schug is retired after a life of various kinds of physical labor. He is currently a writing tutor at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University writing center and also volunteers as a naturalist at Outdoor U., a program at St. John’s University. His eighth book of poems is titled A Blanket of Raven Feathers.
As Scott Owens said in the intro, Larry Schug if a familiar name and one that I always look forward to seeing in this journal. I particularly enjoyed the mashup of my dark sense of humor with my father’s practicality conjured in “Coffin Shortage.” A burial plot salesman once came to our house. My father told him, “As far as I’m concerned, you can throw me back there in the creek when I’m gone.” He’d have been right at home with Larry’s muskrats and minks.
Thank you for your kind words, Atenni. It is very rewarding to know my words are not only read, but appreciated by another human being, especially one moved to comment.