ALMANAC

"The Mummy in the Freeport Art Museum"

Amongst the masterpieces of the small-town
Picassos and Van Goghs and photographs
of the rural poor and busts of dead Greeks
or the molds of busts donated by the Art
Institute of Chicago to this dying
town's little museum, there was a mummy,
a real mummy, laid out in a dim-lit
room by himself. I used to go
to the museum just to visit him, a pharaoh
who, expecting an afterlife
of beautiful virgins and infinite food
and all the riches and jewels
he'd enjoyed in earthly life,
must have wondered how the hell
he'd ended up in Freeport, Illinois.
And I used to go alone into that room
and stand beside his sarcophagus and say,
"My friend, I've asked myself the same thing."

*

"Wake"

At your wake which was your sleep I saw
your son my father place an envelope
of soil in the breast pocket of your coffin
coat and I want to give you something too
so you may rest in the company of things
you loved the way Egyptian pharaohs were
buried with what it was thought they’d need
in the afterlife and so with you Grandpa
I bury three hundred cubic acres of soil
with all that soil is its living and dead
seeds its cicadas asleep for seventeen
summers its earthworms and arrowheads
I bury with you trees you loved yes even those
still green with life I lay them beside you
root and branch young trees of twenty and old
trees of a hundred rings the Three Trees
and the tree the fire-colored foxes loved
to dig dens under fine you get to keep one
of the foxes too but only the smallest
and least likely to live the rest get to go
free into the woods oh why not all twenty
acres of woods and all the woods contain
the meadow in its nunlike heart the fascicles
of its birch bark the fjords of its oak leaves
its rabbits and raccoons its fawns and deer
stands your grandson hunted from the redwing
blackbirds barbwire and the three-sided shack
it can all go in with you the snow of winter
scat of summer owl pellets of autumn violets
of spring everything the fields themselves
the hay the rye the wheat the barley
and the corn of course both its green ears
in July and its stalks shattered like shinbones
in November light the November light
every month’s light for that matter light
of warm and cool evenings and every
evening’s and morning’s birds all birds
even geese just passing over I will snatch
whole flocks down from air and bury them
with you Grandpa and yes of course
you may keep your tractors and gravity
wagons the granary and corn crib and haymow
I’ll employ two tornados to tear them down
into boards and shingles and nails and yes
you get their darkness too their mice and chaff
even that screw you lost that day in 1952
you get back 1952 all of it every night
she lay latticed in moonlight every morning
and all its dew the laughter of your children
the bread you ate the beer you drank all things
that sustained you your work jeans work shirts
hammers pliers screwdrivers wrenches anvils
every cow you ever milked and the milk itself
I’ll fill a thousand Mason jars to surround you
like lanterns so you can see there is plenty
of room for both farmhouses their physicality
and their emptiness their doors and doorknobs
table leaves light fixtures dishware all of it
anything you loved you’ll need the hill
of coal you kept in the cellar the green light
of bad weather the salt that softened the water
the bare sole swaying bulb over the workbench
the tire swing and the tree you hung it from
the gifts you gave them Christmas mornings
the simple humble barely affordable gifts
you gave them you get those back too
all that you gave bruises advice hugs birth
charity a damn comes back to you this and nothing
else is the promise of Heaven your father
and mother you get them back too yes
even your mother who you never knew
who died in childbirth you get her back too
you worked so hard you were so gentle
so kind you get everything you thought
you’d lost forever by dying we lose
nothing by dying we get it all back