This month I offer three poems from my new chapbook, A Landscape in Hell, published by Flutter Press (https://www.createspace.com/6841772). I wrote the poems at white heat during the weeks just before and just after my mother’s death at ninety-nine, on September 10, 2016.
A Landscape in Hell
To grieve, always to suffer
At the thought of time passing.
This beauty you did not expect,
here where all rivers come to rest.
Certainly the trees weep, as you
knew they would, but with such
grace? Every branch and leaf
seems carved from lapis lazuli
or etched onto canvas with a knife
made of jade. Mountains rise to snow
peaks jagged as a demon’s teeth,
but the meadows below are calm
and green and speckled with flowers
that lie on your eyes like the last breath
of spring. Below is a gateway back
to the world. Sea birds careen through
salt air – gulls and petrels and cormorants –
your airy brothers sailing above the sea,
your sisters bearing the eggs of rebirth.
Death and the Hospice Nurse
Death knocks on my mother’s door.
Then again. Slow steps coming.
She peeks out through the little bubble of glass,
then half opens, eyes two figures over the slender chain.
“What do you want?”
“I have come for you,” says the one in the long black robes.
The other is dressed in olive green scrubs.
He wears a surgical mask and latex gloves,
stands a bit to the side saying nothing.
His ass itches terribly and he struggles not to scratch.
“Who are you?” she says, all narrow eyes and suspicion.
If they are selling, she’s not buying.
“Who do you look for?”
“I am Death, come for you,” says the one in the robes.
He speaks impressively, voice steady and calm,
but deep as the sea. There is neither music nor eerie echo.
She looks him up and down.
“You wouldn’t have been allowed in my mother’s kitchen!
What way is that to come to a person’s house?
In your dressing gown? Go away!”
Death consults his manifest.
“Eva?” he asks. “Eva Kle-PE-ter? Did I pronounce that right?”
“No, you didn’t pronounce it right and I wouldn’t go anywhere
with someone dressed like that. Were you raised in a barn?
And what are you holding? You want to poke somebody’s eye out with that?
Now go away or I call the police,” and she slams the door.
Death turns to the hospice nurse, whose name happens to be Steve.
Steve has removed the glove from his left hand and is scratching furiously.
He makes a deep, purring sound, shrugs his shoulders and smiles a little sheepishly.
“I think it’s actually KLEP –e-tar. We can try again tomorrow.
Death digs into his robes, pulls out a small silver flask.
He sips, offers it to Steve, who wipes the mouth on his sleeve, then drinks.
Grimacing, he hands the flask back to Death.
“Or maybe next week,” says Steve.
Death nods, and they walk out into the bright August sunshine,
where the first trees, a few amidst the green, are just beginning to show a hint of red.
Author’s note: It so happens that the nurse in charge of my mother’s hospice care really was named Steve.
Choosing Music For My Funeral
At my father’s we played “The Moldau,”
from Smetana’s “Ma Vlast,” perfect
choice for a man who was never at home
in America, a piece lugubrious enough
for a funeral, and evocative of the Vlatava,
the river that runs through his beloved
city of Prague. “Ma Vlast,” meaning
“My Country,” lost to him in 1939,
and even now in the gray dust of New
York. For my mother we played “Pace,
pace mio Dio,” from Verdi’s “La Forza
del Destino,” perfect again for an anxious
woman who would have loved to find a day
of peace, and found none even in sleep,
where dreams sent her howling back
into the camps or crammed into railroad cars.
For me, though, I don’t know, something
shorter, more upbeat, maybe a little ironic,
like the Beatle’s “Yesterday” – “All my
troubles seemed so far away,” or Woody
Guthrie’s “So Long It’s Been Good
to Know You.” We could go classical,
I guess, but then it would have to be
The Champagne Aria – Finch’ han del vino –
from Mozart’s Don Giovanni – “Till they have
got some wine and are hot-headed, let’s prepare
a great party.” Yeah, I’d love to see my mourners
holding their flutes high, to that short, lively
piece, champagne spilling out on my grave
as they laugh about the old guy winging his way
to the underworld, pennies ready for Charon’s fare,
Mozart’s lovely notes shedding light along the dark way.
©2017 Steve Klepetar
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