Easter Vigil by Ann Neelon
Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize for Poetry (1995)
To enter the world of these poems is to enter a place where all of us reside, a world full of emotional contradictions. And yet, Ann Neelon's voice insists on making sense of the absurdities that come with living. At the end of this century, words like hope and community are not to be taken lightly, nor are they words that come easily.
When a man dies, we, the bereaved ones,
sit in his kitchen and tell jokes
to give his soul enough ballast to fly home.
While he makes progress, we regress.
We open his encyclopedia of ailments and laugh
about his chronic indigestion,
about his lifelong fear of botulism.
We tell stories his grown children have never heard:
how he lined his mother's Victory Garden with sauerkraut,
how the stench won the War.
We talk with our mouths full, for we are trying
to take in as much as he did in a lifetime,
we are stuffing ourselves with loss.
The hams, the turkeys, the cranberry breads, are the gifts
of the neighbors, who pay tribute to the dead man's
eccentricities of appetite.
When we have drunk enough of the dead man's liquor
to experience the giddiness of flight, his widow
makes us eat more, for the giddiness of flight
must belong only to her husband.
The world is full of men she could have married.
We are a few specimens. We are a few
artichoke hearts in olive oil.
One by one, we make our excuses. We gather
at the streetcorner, out of earshot, where we can watch
the wife of our dead friend lingering
over our dirty dishes as if she were lingering
over his last act of love, as if she could not set her feet
on the floor of grief after a night of so much ecstasy.