CHURCH LADIES

Before the final hymn
they’re in the kitchen, ready:
coffee in the urn, a pot of tea,
punch in the big glass bowl.

They’ve set out china saucers and cups,
the fan of napkins, Peggy’s brownies,
Martha’s lemon bars, Betty’s cake,
no little sandwiches from Joyce.

They move between the kitchen and the hall–
a perfect ritual they have devised.
They’ve wept, or their tears will keep.

They bring coffee (cream, no sugar)
to George, still stunned,
and to his son, black tea.

Elsewhere, the women lay out their dead:
embroidered pillow, rosary, salt,
all pins tucked away.
In other times, black-veiled,
they sing the ritual lament.

Once at dawn they rose to redo
a secret burial done in haste.
They fled from the tomb, afraid.

Always there with cookies or keening,
shrouds and bags of spice–
they know better than any man–
or woman below a certain age–
important things that must be done,
preliminaries to resurrection.

 

In memory of Marylin, one of the great ones.

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