Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep,
but we shall all be changed.
—I Corinthians 15:51
After the smell of lilies filled the tiny country church;
after we drove down valleys and across mountains
through winter rain and fog and dissipating
snow; after the funeral director
took our coats and intoned in a low voice
his professional compassion, a kind
of snow itself; after the unexpected shock
of first seeing the coffin; after the townsfolk
and the childhood friends moved through, offering
their condolences, and after we shifted from one foot to the other
beneath the burden of their sympathy;
after the remembrances, after the sons, the daughter,
their sons and daughters, after the old
farmhand, the surviving sister, and the neighbor who one winter
took all his meals beside her fire remembered her
kindness and good humor as we
suffered our own memories of her kindness and good humor;
after the preacher mounted his podium
and said for God so loved the world and
if Christ be not raised;
after we took or did not take
our consolations in the miracle of the resurrection, and after the fugitive sun
shone through the stained-glass shock of wheat
just so, we gathered in the church basement
around long tables and ate.
The United Methodist Women fed us ham and potato salad,
Jell-O with fruit suspended inside.
We remembered to each other
that she, the absent one, had been one of these women,
had served food and spoken kindly
to the families of old farmers who had died in their beds
or in the dust of the fields, and had received
this kindness, too, upon the death of one husband
and then another, as outside
the rain began again.
One of the United Methodist Women cried
remembering her dead husband, and was consoled.
Upstairs, in the empty sanctuary, the coffin
and its contents removed, I sat alone
in a middle pew. Through the floor
rising and falling together.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.