It was an unusual sight at the cemetery up on Bootjack Hill
(I was there placing lilacs on a grave—another story for another day);
Nothing odd, you understand, in the disinterested growl
Of the backhoe, or the occasional out-of-place jocularity
Among the excavating crew, and certainly deaths were
Outracing births in these parts nowadays— but strange in that
A casket was coming up, a clumsy poor man’s Resurrection.
I am, by no means, a particularly nosy person (you won’t see my nose
Pressed against the window pane after each siren that sends
The Elk County boys or the volunteer fire company down the street),
But the idea of the dearly departed heading in the wrong direction
Was enough to draw me toward the spectacle of that wooden box
Swaying and wobbling like a novice skater’s layover spin.
The proceedings were being observed by an elderly couple,
Old enough to be of no particular age. Their car had Carolina plates,
But their inflection, their casually-tossed idioms—they noted that
The grass needs mowed—marked them as one-time locals.
They’d returned (for the last time most likely, the wife ruefully noted)
To take their son with them; he’d drowned when was five? six?
(The years will do that to a body, apparently) in Kinzua Creek
Some half-century ago, back when little boys weren’t under a mandate
To be safe from themselves, as it were. We’ve never forgotten him!
The old man said, the words snapping off in a manner that spoke
Of something else altogether; that the whistle at the Montmorenci
Went off at three and eleven for second shift, and your ass
Had better be there, because those were good jobs that didn’t provide
For bereavement leave, because there was always someone just itching
To take your spot on the line, and anyway life went on,
At least in the sense that television screens went all to snow
And tires went flat and fuses blew and eventually a dead child
Is not always in the forefront of your thoughts,
Only tiptoeing in when the Press ran a picture
Of the Montmorenci Area Class of whenever,
Or there was an item about some other family who opened their door
To a grim sheriff’s deputy with his hat in his hand.
Eventually, after some time and in defiance of both the odds and gravity,
The casket was settled into the back of the undertaker’s huge old black Caddy,
And the couple cane-toddled back to their car,
Following it out the through the old spider-like gates and onto the main road.
I watched the miniature procession until the cars faded from sight,
Until there was nothing left to see but hillsides covered in old growth pine.