Walking Papers by Thomas Lynch
Thomas Lynch is one of my favorite authors, so I wrote him a thank you note a few months ago. To my surprise, he sent me a few of his books as a gift, thereby cementing my affection for him. I’ve been working my way through them.
Lynch is an undertaker, so much of his work deals with mortality. My favorite poem from Walking Papers by Thomas Lynch:
Some days the worst that can happen happens.
The sky falls or evil overwhelms or
the world as we have come to know it turns
toward the eventual apocalypse
long predicted in all the holy books —
the end-times of old grudge and grievances
that bring us each to our oblivions.
Still, maybe this is not the end at all,
nor even the beginning of the end.
Rather, one more in a long list of sorrows
to be added to the ones thus far endured,
through what we have come to call our history —
another in that bitter litany
that we will, if we survive it, have survived.
God help us who must live through this, alive
to the terror and open wounds: the heart
torn, shaken faith, the violent, vengeful soul,
the nerve exposed, the broken body so
mingled with its breaking that it’s lost forever.
Lord send us, in our peril, local heroes.
Someone to listen, someone to watch, someone
to search and wait and keep the careful count
of the dead and missing, the dead and gone
but not forgotten. Some days all that can be done
is to salvage one sadness from the mass
of sadnesses, to bear one body home,
to lay the dead out among their people,
organize the flowers and casseroles,
write the obits, meet the mourners at the door,
drive the dark procession down through town,
toll the bell, dig the hole, tend the pyre.
It’s what we do. The daylong news is dire —
full of true believers and politicos,
bold talk of holy war and photo-ops.
But here, brave men and women pick the pieces up.
They serve the living, caring for the dead.
Here the distant battle is waged in homes.
Like politics, all funerals are local.