Dear relatives and friends, when my last breath
Grows large and free in air, don’t call it death —
A word to enrich the undertaker and inspire
His surly art of imitating life; conspire
Against him. Say that my body cannot now
Be improved upon; it has no fault to show
To the sly cosmetician. Say that my flesh
Has a perfect compliance with the grass
Truer than any it could have striven for.
You will recognize the earth in me, as before
I wished to know it in myself: my earth
That has been my care and faithful charge from birth,
And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,
And all my hopes. Say that I have found
A good solution, and am on my way
To the roots. And say I have left my native clay
At last, to be a traveler; that too will be so.
Traveler to where? Say you don’t know.
But do not let your ignorance
Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say
Anything too final. Whatever
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh. Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure
Your hope. That will be generous
To me and to yourselves. Why settle
For some know-it-all’s despair
When the dead may dance to the fiddle
Hereafter, for all anybody knows?
And remember that the Heavenly soil
Need not be too rich to please
One who was happy in Port Royal.
I may be already heading back,
A new and better man, toward
That town. The thought’s unreasonable,
But so is life, thank the Lord!
So treat me, even dead,
As a man who has a place
To go, and something to do.
Don’t muck up my face
With wax and powder and rouge
As one would prettify
An unalterable fact
To give bitterness the lie.
Admit the native earth
My body is and will be,
Admit its freedom and
Dress me in the clothes
I wore in the day’s round.
Lay me in a wooden box.
Put the box in the ground.
Beneath this stone a Berry is planted
In his home land, as he wanted.
He has come to the gathering of his kin,
Among whom some were worthy men,
Farmers mostly, who lived by hand,
But one was a cobbler from Ireland,
Another played the eternal fool
By riding on a circus mule
To be remembered in grateful laughter
Longer than the rest. After
Doing that they had to do
They are at ease here. Let all of you
Who yet for pain find force and voice
Look on their peace, and rejoice.