Sleeper in the Casket

The deceased has 2 cusps of lid
Not quite drawn down over the eyes –
I wonder if they are peering askant
Into the afterlife! Pale rouge belies
The flaccid cheeks; pertinaciously hid
The 90+ years he once was ambulant
As rook or bishop on a chessboard
But now light as spirit; stiff as board.

The pate of hair, white among black,
Is slicked down sideways and back;
The trimmed nostril hair knows
Neatness dignifies an upright nose!
But the deep while my heart is cringing,
Mushy mind is surreptitiously thinking,
“O, why does a deceased in repose
Need to look good about the nose?”

I remember an old levitation trick –
Children singing in the thick
Of it:
“Voici un corps mort
Raide comme le marbre
Leger comme spirit
Levi-toi au nom de Jesus Christ!”
I wonder if the quick and the dead
Sleep a walking dream of the head.

15 March 2014

Notes for Sleeper in the Casket –
A poem on our pre-occupation with vanity in this world and the next.
Pertinaciously: stubbornly or perversely persistent
Ambulant: able to move about freely
Rook: the ‘castle’ piece in a game of chess
Bishop: another chess piece
Mushy: excessively sentimental
Surreptitiously: secretly
Levitation trick: a children’s game, commonly known as ‘Light as a feather, stiff as a board’ and ‘pig in a blanket’ (see video clip on YouTube or read Wikipedia for the details of this ‘trick’ in which children lift a ‘sleeper’ pretending to be dead, each child employing only 2 fingers of each hand. The game was commonly played when medieval Europe was ravaged by the plague. The ‘levitation’ symbolized the resurrection of the dead in Christ.
In the thick of it: actively involved in the levitation game
Translation of the ‘levitation trick’ song:
“Here is a dead body
Stiff as a stick,
Cold as marble,
Light as a spirit
Lift yourself, in Christ’s name!”

This poem is part of the Poetry Book “Arrow of Time

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