new Mennonite Life logo    December 2002     vol. 57 no. 4     Back to Table of Contents

Ending with Music

by Maurice Mierau

The vision thing

The day Aunt Mary died
I was busy consoling myself.

(My son is not HIV positive,
My marriage is better than Tolstoy's.

My income is within the national average,
I voted for the government.)

Aunt Mary was simple-minded
because of childhood meningitis she

was heroic and cheerful. Aunt Mary's vision stopped
her from dying, she saw her parents at the end of her bed

calling from over the river, Mary come be with the dead
but she said no, there is still work for me to do

In the seniors' home, folding fresh laundry
singing hymns, cheering invalids.

When Mary finally gave in and died
the funeral home director had a flowered tie.

He talked smoothly about death,
his teeth were white with sincerity.

During the service we sang "How Great Thou Art" in four part harmony.
It was better than a Billy Graham show.

I knew Mary expected to sing with the angels,
she could see them at the foot of her bed.

She could see all of us from over there.
She could see us eating dainties at her funeral.

I drove back to work squinting at the sun. Why can't I see properly?
Why do the angels have to sing in tune?

Church going

for Harry L.

Sundays it can always be found here
in a place without incense or fertility rites,
harmony singing, four-wheel drives,

the churchgoers where I attend
want their bodies healed, kids safe,
the massage parlours and booze cans closed,
the word of the Lord, monogamous signifier
married in the blood of the signified.

Jesus cleared the temple of moneylenders
and writers his life rooted in
speech acts, the perfect word
in a world beyond perverse versions.

I respect their infinite twelve step program
that clutches and pushes toward an unceremonious god,
no respecter of twelve steps
or tones.

Sundays, beneath it all, desire runs
like a steeplechase runner for water,
like a tenor for breath
like these people, wanting something I can't name,
and beneath it all, still going.

What you can't write about

War is an event . . . counter to human reason and human nature.
--Tolstoy, War and Peace

When you find out you can kill someone
then you know what you can't write about.

Killing someone is more personal
than having sex with them
(although it's standard military practice
to combine the two).

When you know what it's like to want revenge
more than life itself
and when you get it
(there's nothing new to say about this)
you still hate stronger than
stronger than you wanted any woman.

When you see thousands of dead bodies
on a field
(I know literature is a lousy witness)
soldiers taking turns on a young girl
or any of the things
that make people say yes
that's war, as if it were like the weather,
uncontrollable but strangely part of us.

The difference between a martyr and a suicide

The sack bursting open off
a high bridge to expel this
man I admire, a martyr-

(not that he didn't cling to the sack
his fingers an unspeakable confession
playing an inaudible instrument),

the town executioner struck him blind
with a stick: oh how you murder me-

this man like a frog falling heavily
into stagnant water, I pity you,
the sack bursting open -

a martyr who could not live
in the flesh
drowning in it.

3     Leaving the body (from The Pain Problem)

I don't know any songs
for this
all I know is
you left early,
you left the imperfect body of the world

and the body is
to be suspected
of beauty
and failure

(whatever the mind grabs and holds
is also suspect)

Don't offer platitudes or simple answers,

do not believe in healing,

do not be angry.

But you suspected everything
when the curtains dropped and you became
a careful
still picture