Saturday, May 31, 2014

What Our Dead Do by Zbigniew Herbert

What Our Dead Do

Jan came by this morning
—I dreamed of my father
he says

he rode in an oak coffin
I was near the procession
and father says to me:

how fine you’ve got me up
and this funeral is splendid
flowers at this time of year
it must have cost a fortune

don’t worry about it dad
I say—let the people see
that we truly loved you
we’re doing you proud

six men in black livery
go grandly alongside

father ponders a moment
and says—the desk key
is in the silver inkwell
in the second drawer on the left
there’s still a little money

we’ll use the money—I say—
to buy you a gravestone dad
big and made of black marble

no need son—says father—
rather give it to the poor

six men in black livery
go grandly alongside
carrying lit lanterns

again as if pondering
—watch the flowers in the garden
cover them properly in the winter
I wouldn’t want them to go to ruin

you are the eldest—he says—
take the genuine pearl cuff links
in the pouch behind the picture
may they bring you good luck
I was given them by my mother
when I graduated from school
he didn’t say anything else
but fell into a deeper sleep

so this is how our dead
look after us
admonishing us in dreams
returning our lost money
trying to finagle us jobs
mumbling lottery numbers
or when they can’t do that
tapping fingers on the pane

and we in infinite gratitude
invent them an immortality
snug as a mouse’s burrow

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