I D K     I S S U E     5


jacob boyd

A Good Funeral

A good funeral is one that gets the dead where they need to go
and the living where they need to be.

—Thomas  Lynch

A choirboy exudes
exalts expels “Ave Maria”
from the pellucid anterior
of his musical self shell

freeing us into our grief.
Gone now the invisible line
at the wake—the barrier
my father would not cross.

No use pointing at the open
casket as if to argue.
No more of his, “Whatever
that is, it isn’t her.”

When the priest beckons
my father to write
his wife’s full name—
as in some lost ship’s log—

he finally breaks down.
The priest begins a prayer.
My niece, little Cate,
perched beside me on the pew,

catches a glimpse of what
none of the rest of us sees,
points and shouts into the vast
cathedral’s cavity: Baby!

As our car creeps through
Calvary Cemetery’s gates,
I kiss the top of Cate’s head
and find the clean frankincense

scent tangled in her hair.

We stand, after the interment,
smoking in the mist.
My father says that he’s glad
the priest forgot a passage.

“It makes it more human,” he says.
The truth is: this all took place
over ten years ago. With some shame,
I think of her when I hear The White Album

or Joni Mitchell’s Blue, or when
I write in a certain journal,
or use this one set of bowls,
or wear the cashmere sweater.

I am, in other words, infused
with her with whom I was
not always kind. We shelved
her body in a place of skulls.

What else?

Not long after,
in the early dark at the turn
of the year, my father—dozing
in a chair by the window—

woke to a golden warmth
rising from Carnegie’s streets.
She was calling him.
Not actually in the room

or on the phone, no ghost
or angel on the funicular.
More like a visitation
in the form of a newborn

projected onto his consciousness.
Beaming, she let him know
she was okay. She was
an infant again. A gust of will.

Before she died, she arranged
for my father to get in touch
with another widowed friend.
He moved not in with the woman

but out to the country—
to a sandpit stranded above
the Cape Fear river, about
an hour from his lover’s house,

where he could drink in peace.
He lived on the hem of an ephemeral
body he called a lake.
It was, at best, a smallish pond.

He spent each day reshaping
the banks with a shovel.
He’d come in all sweat and sunburn,
pour a drink, and sort of glow

until the effort wore off.
Every summer the lake pond shrunk
to a muddy crater not even
a kingfisher could disappear into. 

Gone one wife then another.
Gone one widow and her grief.
Gone the splash beside the white
duck we named after that golfing

boogalooing cartoon bird
that speaks only its own name.
Gone, I’m sure, the insurance.
Gone, even, the living duck.

A lifetime since that infant
arrived like a dream. Imagine
her now: sitting in Social Studies,
stuck in her body like a dove

in a stovepipe, desk-bound,
dormant hormones stirring.
How freakishly prepossessing
a fresh identity feels!

Little Cate: she’s five feet
eight and twelve years old.
She called me tonight to ask
if I had ever played a game

known as Ding Dong Ditch.
She laughed as she said it.
You know, the one where
you ring the doorbell and run.


Jacob Boyd teaches English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he recently graduated from the PhD Program for Writers. He is the author of Stilt House, selected by Heather McHugh as the winner of the 2018 Emrys Press Chapbook Award. Poems of his have appeared in Blackbird, Copper Nickel, Crab Orchard Review, Fiddlehead, North America Review, and elsewhere.