The Sunday Poem: Gary Brower...Spiffy At Graveside

Gary Brower, June 16th, 2013





"You look real spiffy,"
someone would say
if you dressed
in your one batch of best clothes,
combed your hair,
rubbed the dust from your shoes.

"You look just like a little man,"
someone said to me,
the day of my grandfather's funeral,
attended by most of the town.

At the service,
where the preacher's pulpit
overlooked a jungle of flowers,
when the weeping had stopped,
after everyone had filed by the casket-box
saying "he looks so natural"-
a last compliment for the dead-
I was held up to kiss his cheek
before the lid closed,
a sealed door between
who we had been
and who I would be.

And, although my grandfather
was well dressed,
no one said he looked "spiffy."



Followed by a procession of cars,
the hearse took my grandfather's body
north of town to Goshen Cemetery,
a place name from the Bible,
like Bethany, the County Seat,
and the nearby village of Mt. Moriah,
where Uncle Nen and Aunt Toi
lived their lives of soil and toil.

He was buried next to Farrell's grave,
his infant daughter, dead for decades,
beside her little gravestone
with the stone lamb on top,
the baby photo on the front,
in this rural burial ground
with a white, clapboard church,
where wasps, from their nests
under the eaves, sometimes
added to the sting of death.

Mentally gasping
from the loss of breath
my grandfather had once
breathed through me,
my only father figure at the time,
I felt as if I were inside a silo
trying to keep from drowning
in the shifting grain-
while keeping my balance
on the edge of the Grand Canyon
of Death.

It used to be that when a hearse,
with its procession of head-lighted cars,
passed by on the streets
everyone stopped, doffed their hats,
put a hand on their heart
out of respect for the dead.
Cars in the opposite lane
pulled to the side of the road.

At least that's what happened
in the landlocked, rural heart of the nation
where now the only suburbs
of these villages are cemeteries.
Everyone seems to try to look good
for the deceased as well as for the living:

No one wants be caught dead
not looking "spiffy" at graveside.



Note: A wonderful picture of a remembered life event in this poem from Gary Brower. He writes, " It's a recent poem about my childhood, that is really a follow-up to a longer poem of mine, 'Trail,' published a few years ago. This longer poem is a poetization of my experience, when 7 years old, of being alone in the car with my grandfather on a country road, when he suddenly pulled over to the shoulder, pulled on the emergency brake, and slumped onto the steering wheel dead of a heart attack . . . As a child, I had lived, from time to time, with my grandparents, so he was like a parent as well as a grandfather to me."

Gary reads his work around the state of New Mexico and across the country. He is one of the directors of the Duende Poetry Series of Placitas (now in its 9th year), which sponsors four annual readings. He is the Editor/Publisher of a poetry quarterly, Malpais Review, which is beginning its fourth year of publishing. The new Summer issue of Malpais Review will be out before the end of this month.

Besides his extensive academic background, he was trained as an Hispanic poetry specialist at Drury & Missouri Universities, and has been in association with such greats as Octavio Paz, Nicanor Parra, Angel Gonzalez, Ernesto Cardenal, & Jorge Luis Borges. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and now lives in Placitas, NM.

Many years ago Gary and I gave a reading at the Thunderbird Bar in Placitas. Much later he showed up again in Placitas, this time to live. He has been a boon to the Duende Poetry Series at the Anasazi Fields Winery which was started by Jeff Bryan, Cirrelda Snider-Bryan, Jim Fish, and me. The next Duende reading, we are happy to announce, will be: Jessica Helen Lopez and Damien Flores on September 15th, Sunday, at 3 PM in Placitas.

It looks like I’ll be putting together a few of these Sunday Poem presentations. Thank you Jon Knudsen for the invitation to do so. And thanks Rich Boucher for your recent offerings here. 

Larry Goodell


Poetry submissions are welcome.  Email

Views: 212

Comment by Margaret Randall on September 8, 2013 at 7:24am

There are lines in this poem I will remember for a long long time. Very powerful poem, Gary. And thank you Larry for this inaugural effort as curator of the Sunday Morning Poem!

Comment by Dee Cohen on September 8, 2013 at 7:51am

Hi Gary, Lovely mix of past & present, life & death. Your eye for telling details continues to impress me.

Comment by Izquierdo on September 8, 2013 at 10:11am

I've never thought of cliche phrases being used only in certain contexts before, but you have identified three at least that are reserved for such occasions as funerals, "looks so natural," being the best example. The fact is I've never peeped into a casket where the deceased looked natural -- just the opposite -- yet it's mandatory to proclaim it, I suppose. A wedding would have a whole different set: "She's simply glowing?" Good work and interesting from start to finish.       

Comment by Rich Boucher on September 9, 2013 at 11:30am

You're welcome, Larry! Thank you!


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