Sunday, March 30, 2014

#122: "Home for the Funeral: a pantoum" by Lita A. Kurth

  
~This poem was previously published in The Santa Clara Review (1991).



Home for the Funeral: a pantoum

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy
I have to go to a place where I can't stand to go.
God, give me strength.  Aunt Mary, give me whiskey
I can't stand the heat.

I have to go to a place where I can't stand to go.
The storm is herding us to a horrible end
I can't stand the heat.
Let's drive on and on till we are past it.

The storm is herding us to a horrible end
We can't bear it.
Let's drive on and on till we are past it.
We must have wine before we go.

We can't bear it.
We can't stand the heat
We must have wine before we go.
Aunt Mary doles out the whiskey

We can't stand the heat
In her charity she includes a valium from her private reserve.
Aunt Mary doles out the whiskey
The kitchen is gold as we come up the back path in the dark.

In her charity she includes a valium from her private reserve
Our days are like an evening shadow.
The kitchen is gold as we come up the back path in the dark.
We wither away like grass.

Our days are like an evening shadow.
What are all these people doing here?
We wither away like grass.
I cry in front of all of them.  I have to.

What are all these people doing here?
"Was that fifty or a hundred, Shirley?- the money you got for the body?"
I cry in front of all of them.  I have to.
"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Was that fifty or a hundred, Shirley?- the money you got for the body?"
"And Uncle Ole sent those pretty flowers.”
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"That must have cost a pretty penny."

"And Uncle Ole sent those pretty flowers."
They will perish but thou must endure.
"That must have cost a pretty penny."
Let this be recorded for generations to come.

They will perish but thou must endure.
(Shut up, Grandma, shut up, shut up.)
Let this be recorded for generations to come.
"Boy, crying really takes the pounds off."

(Shut up, Grandma, shut up, shut up.)
Am I a God at hand? saith the Lord.
"Boy, crying really takes the pounds off."
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?

Am I a God at hand? saith the Lord.
"Aunt Josie said I was probably suffering the most."
Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth?
"Why should you have his diary?  I gave it to him in the first place."

"Aunt Josie said I was probably suffering the most."
No thought can be withholden from thee.
"Why should you have his diary?  I gave it to him in the first place."
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.

No thought can be withholden from thee.
He came back and started rocking the rocking-chair right where he used to sit.
The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof.
Joy got sent home because she started stapling her hand.

He came back and started rocking the rocking-chair right where he used to sit.
"That's one less present to buy."
Joy got sent home because she started stapling her hand.
"What was it? Delinquent diabetes?  No, juvenile diabetes."

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy
God, give me strength.  Aunt Mary, give me whiskey
  
*****



THE STORY BEHIND THE POEM

In the late 1980s, with fear and excruciating self-consciousness, I came out of the poetry closet. I declared myself a poet and began to partake of the writers’ community. I’d been writing for years—and at that particular time, by the necessity of psychological crisis and growth, it was pouring out of me, my truth, my perception, my attempts to connect experience with art and the rest of the world—but now I sought out poetry magazines and contemporary books and readings and conferences. It was at the marvelous Frost Place Poetry Festival that I first encountered the pantoum form, and I used it to recreate the crazy-painful moments of coming home after my youngest brother died, an event that affected me profoundly and led to decisive changes in my life. The pantoum seemed right for conveying obsessive pain, recurring waves of sorrow and stabbing memories. I interwove that unbearable, sudden event with quotations from the Book of Job and from Psalms 102, both written, it seemed, in the face of stunning, wrong suffering and loss.

*****

ABOUT LITA A. KURTH



Lita A. Kurth  (MFA Pacific Lutheran University, Rainier Writers Workshop) has published poetry, short fiction, and creative nonfiction in Tikkun, NewVerseNews, Blast Furnace, eliipsis…literature and art, Composite Arts, the Santa Clara Review, Fjords Review, Compose, Tattoo Highway, Vermont Literary Review, etc. An excerpt of her novel-in-progress appeared as a story, “Marius Martin, Proletarian,” in On the Clock: Contemporary Short Stories of Work (Bottom Dog Press, 2010). Her nonfiction, “Pivot,” which appears in the 2012 University of Nebraska anthology, Becoming:What Makes a Woman, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her story, “Lifetime TV Movie” was a finalist for the 2012 Writers@Work contest. She regularly contributes to Tikkun.org/tikkundaily, TheReviewReview.net, and classism.org. In 2013, she and Tania Martin co-founded the Flash Fiction Forum, a venue for flash fiction in San Jose.

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