He arrived a good forty minutes
after Dad passed away. Someone
had said a priest wouldn’t perform last rites
on a Catholic who had married and divorced
twice, even if Dad was single and repentant,
a weekly church-goer. The good Father
didn’t cite this as the reason
for his tardiness. He greeted us
jovially, confirmed the deceased’s name,
then strode to the bedside and touched Dad’s shoulder.
“He’s already getting cold!” he observed.
We gaped, but the priest had turned back to us
and moved on to our family name.
Breen—that was Irish, wasn’t it?
Were we related to so-and-so? Hadn’t there been
Breens in that ill-fated excursion out West–
he paused awkwardly then, but I said, “You mean
the one where the people ate each other?”
Ah, yes, the Donner Party. No, we assured him,
none of our relatives had been on that trip.
At last Father turned back to Dad, raised his hand,
and began a blessing for the dead, a generic prayer
that didn’t convey approval of Dad’s spiritual shortcomings.
With final condolences, Father Someone went on his way,
and we glanced at Dad as if we could hear him ranting
to some supplicant at the mighty gates of pearl: “Goddamn priests.
And I put a twenty in the collection basket every week.”


NOTE: This is a follow-up to the sestina I wrote last week, “In the ICU,” about my father’s passing. My sister Diamondqueen, steadfastly not a poetry fan, hadn’t read the sestina yet. I was telling her about it and lamented I hadn’t been able to work in all the weird details of that morning. When I mentioned the priest, she yelled, “I forgot about that! I need to write that down somewhere so I remember.” I’ve done it for her here, not that I expect her to read this poem, either.

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