Line for Billy

How are we gonna
heat our house this winter?
One mourner has a stove
but it eats a lot of wood, he says,
standing in a line
barely any light left and ten degrees
behind an IGA
and no place for parking.
A great loss…
A great tragedy…
He sold me mulch…
He sold me flowers…
He taught me how to hunt…
We hoisted one together.
We followed The Dead.
Here we all search for understanding
on our feet for how many hours
at this crowded Northfield funeral home.
It’s not like trying to find a lost watch.
It’s not like re-building a house.
We know the faces
          (but some of the names escape us…
He’s bearded,
no tie,
his hands folded for the Lord’s Prayer.
I can’t pretend I knew him
but plenty of other people did.
As I’m writing this a multitude pays its respects.
I’m sitting in a rental car drinking a beer.
For him, I say.
All’s I remember is the maroon Corvette
he couldn’t get started after JB’s funeral…
Yes, they knew him in this town.
The barber knew him.
All these people standing, freezing
                              in line knew him,
their noses dripping,
their bodies huddled in wool coats against the wind.
And the cars keep coming.
Out past the funeral home,
          at the edge of the woods
          is a gaggle of turkeys
          a herd of elk
          one lonely moose
          & a party of game.
Not yet stuffed
          these animals are glad to see him go.
They will not become his trophies
          (though as trophies
          lonely they would not be….)
The Massachusetts Randalls.
They are a family that knows each other.
His nieces are crying.
His sisters are trying to stave off that infectious hurt.
His son…
His mother robbed now twice
          of men fifty years old.
          “There are no men in my house.”
Inside, warmth.  Thank God.
          The line moves slow
          though at sixty heartaches an hour,
          crawling toward the casket with disbelief.
As we stop to kneel at his coffin,
          touch his arm once more,
          tears fall apart on our boots
          like melting snow,
          the white birches of this land
          bending over to help us up,
          having grown ever more ashen
          with the sound of bad news.
He can say more than most men.
He didn’t die drunk.
He didn’t die asleep.
He didn’t die in the office.
He died out there in the elements,
          on a frozen, French plain,
          on a machine,
          perhaps to the voice of Jerry Garcia,
          knowing his kids were safe at home;
          he was casually busy
          doing something he loved.
The line is still there.
Employees, co-workers,
men & women who worked this land,
           who kept the greenhouses            just warm enough
                                                             just damp enough
                                                             just bright enough.
The man loved flowers.
Not produce so much,
he was different like that,
his own man that way.
No, he was
                       grasses, & cabbage, & kale.
And mums.     A whole field of mums
                       ya shoulda seen ‘em.
Neighbors, townsfolk,
his daughter’s basketball team,
a man in workboots with a tape-measure on his hip
                              and a limp,
maybe some DeadHeads mixed in.
Hunters.  Hunters of seven states
         and just as many kinds of meat.
Bear, coyote, deer, elk, pheasant.
You name it, he shot it.
And cooked it.
Who wants a bowl of bear stew?
Not a man of many words but      (I’m told)
he could surprise you with a story.
So maybe he spoiled his kids a bit.
Maybe he was a spender.
No one’s complaining.
Except for the lack of parking
and how damned cold it is out here
and God it’s packed inside.
This wake’s supposed to end
          in half an hour
          but it ain’t gonna.
Not until everyone sees Billy.

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