Things My Grandfather Must Have Said
I want to die in the wintertime,
make the ground regret it,
make the backhoe sweat.
January. Blue Monday
after the holiday weekend.
I want it to be hard on everybody.
I want everyone to have a headache
and the traffic to be impossible.
Back it up for miles, Jesus.
I want steam under the hood, bad directions,
cousins lost, babies crying, and sleet.
I want a wind so heavy the umbrellas howl.
And give me some birds, pigeons even,
anything circling for at least half an hour,
and plastic tulips and a preacher who stutters
“Uh” before every word of Psalm 22.
I want to remind them just how bad things are.
Spell my name wrong on the stone, import
earthworms fat as Aunt Katie’s arms
and put them under the folding chairs.
And I want a glass coffin.
I want to be wearing the State of Missouri
string tie that no one else liked. God,
I hope the straps break
and I fall in with a thud. I hope
the shovel slips out of my son’s hands.
I want them to remember I don’t feel anything.
I want the food served straight from my garden.
I want the head of the table set. I want
everyone to get a pennant that says,
“Gramps was the greatest,”
and a complete record of my mortgage payments
in every thank you note.
And I want to keep receiving mail for 13 years,
all the bills addressed to me,
old friends calling every other month
to wonder how I am.
Then I want an earthquake or rising water table,
the painful exhumation of my remains.
I want to do it all again.
I want to die the day before something truly
important happens and have my grandson say,
“What would he have thought of that?”
I want you all to know how much I loved you.
At the Crematorium, My Son Asks Why We're All Wearing Black
These days the system is state of the art—scrims of smoke,
no odor. At least the neighbors don't protest
and the birds still gather on the tarred roof’s edge
around seeds pooled at drain tiles. We accumulate
and are dispersed at the traffic light out front, while within
this relay point of caskets and morgue lockers,
the husks of our fallen continue their diminishment.
We're all members of this committee, son. We serve
with our tanks full and our windows down
until in one moment
we are reduced to manila envelopes
of movie stubs, bus transfers and address books;
in another, to pollen ruffling
the overcast, distended cloud cover of the world.
The passing lanes, the turn signals, the green and yellow lights,
the no U-turn and school crossing signs,
they all lead here.
You’re old enough, now, for one dark suit and tie—
and to know exactly why
you’re uncomfortable wearing it.
Mark Cox has published three books of poetry: Natural Causes, Pitt Poetry Series, 2004; Thirty-seven Years from the Stone, Pitt Poetry Series, 1998; and Smoulder, David R. Godine, 1989. His honors include a Whiting Writers' Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Oklahoma Book Award, The Society of Midland Authors Poetry Prize, and numerous fellowships.
His poems have been published in various periodicals such as Green Mountains Review, Tar River Poetry, Crazyhorse, Poetry Miscellany, Mid-American Review, Greensboro Review, Indiana Review, Black Ridge Review, Slate, Solo and many others.