Unblinking Eye
Photograph by Ed Buffaloe

Working On My Death Chant
In The Hyde Park Bar and Grill

This is not the room I will die in.
That much I know.
The walls tell me.
These people here, crouched over their plates and glasses,
will not look upon my dying face.
This girl who serves me coffee at the bar
will never stand
looking down upon that emptiness of flesh
that is my sole remains.
I find that reassuring.
There's no need to write my will today
or climb on the bar, suffused in memories of Little Big Man
and chant my death song.
Just as well.  It's not finished anyway.
"God's not ready for you," the walls say.
"Fine," I reply, "because I'm not ready for him either."
"But keep working on your death song," warn the walls.
"Oh, I will. I work on it every day."
The music vaguely echoes the Forties:
a saxophone content to muse over the melody
without drawing attention to itself--
a non-violent, philosophical saxophone.
I should order one for my funeral
to accompany my death chant.
Yes, I think I want to hold my funeral while I'm still alive
so I can sing my death song accompanied by a Forties saxophone.
That way I won't miss anything.
Because I know I'll be like a kid at bedtime,
"Do we have to put the lights out yet?
I'm not even sleepy."
The saxophone moans softly and the piano moves closer,
light and comforting, a mother soothing a child.
I see my father standing on a troop train
waving his cap as the train moves away
taking him to World War II.
I wonder if he's chanting his death song.
I wonder if he knows how many years will pass
before he sees us again.
"See," says my mother. "He's the only one waving his cap.
He's the only one doing it right."
The train vanishes.  We stand looking after it.
I want to give him something but he's gone.
The room swims back.
The walls repeat, to the saxophone's pulsing moan,
"This is not the room you'll die in."
Outside, a bus goes by taking people home,
drowsy from the day.
No this is not the room but I can almost see it.
The saxophone spirals up, then dives,
followed by the drums.
People come through the door.
I watch their faces.
Each face is a line in my death song.
I write them all down.
"That's it," say the walls.
"Keep working on it."
"I will," I tell them, "but just remember
I'm not ready to put the lights out yet."
Drums rattle.
The saxophone climbs high, high
then plunges into silence.

Poem copyright 1989 by Albert Huffstickler

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