Before Malcolm’s funeral got started, I stood talking with John the blacksmith, who told me He’d been spending some pretty hard hours With a pair of two-year-old Friesian mares Who’d never had their feet trimmed. In a flash, I thought of a feral donkey In Ireland, back thirty years,
Poor animal, lowly mount of the Christ, Hobbling on hooves long as breadloaves. This had nothing whatever to do with Malcolm, But somehow it did, as it happened. Malcolm had once pronounced me as husband. A wonder. I’d gotten the girl, More than the clumsy hero can fathom
When it crops up in sappy movies. So Malcolm is part of a long, joyful marriage, And the family it made, including The children he baptized. One reading Came from a funny note He’d left for the pastor, which said in part: “Non-judgment day is coming,
Beware.” I could virtually feel Malcolm’s voice, Insisting as ever that God Was too big to conform to anyone’s will. There was no one so evil or ill To have strayed beyond the Lord’s grace, he claimed. He was frumpy and funny but mostly Just good. An accomplished athlete as well,
Improbably fierce on the courts, Although he loved his every opponent, He’d wanted his ashes interred In a tennis-ball can. It might seem absurd That I conjured horse or burro, But as we mourners chuckled and wept, I imagined I heard soft words, Malcolm’s, and knew his hand would have stroked
Those neglected, suffering creatures. That funeral day, for all who were there, Was so painful I’d almost swear It hurt them to stand on God’s green earth. For my part at least I wished I could somehow walk for a while on air.
I have just one person left on earth who’s been My friend through grade school, high school, church, and sports, The pastor says. Meanwhile the winter rain Explodes on the metal roof like handgun shots,
And it’s hard to hear the man go on: Thing is, He’s lost his memory. There comes a catch In his throat, a thing that no one here has witnessed Through all his ministry. Here’s the trouble, he adds,
I’m left alone with the things we knew together. Silence ensues, save for a few quiet coughs, And rustlings of the worship programs’ paper. Then the preacher seems to change his theme right off,
Speaking of Mary, and how she must have suffered When her son referred to his apostolic peers As family, not to her or his brothers, Not to Joseph—as if he forgot the years
Spent in their household, as if he kept no thought Of ties that bind. The congregants are old. They try to listen, but their minds go wandering off To things like the pounding rain outside, so cold
And ugly and loud. The storm, so out of season, So wintry, still improbably recalls The milder months, which vanished in a moment, And which they summon vaguely, if at all.