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Poem: "Gathered Here Today" - The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
ysabetwordsmith
ysabetwordsmith
Poem: "Gathered Here Today"

This poem came out of the November 5, 2013 Poetry Fishbowl.  It was inspired by prompts from kelkyag, wyld_dandelyon, mdlbear, rix_scaedu, labelleizzy, and Dreamwidth user Rosieknight.  It also fills the "diversity" square in my Wordsmith Bingo Card.  This poem belongs to the series Monster House.  It features characters introduced in "Unspoken Noise," so it will make more sense if you've read that one first.

This microfunded poem is being posted one verse at a time, as donations come in to cover them. The rate is $.50/line, so $5 will reveal 10 new lines, and so forth. There is a permanent donation button on my profile page, or you can contact me for other arrangements. You can also ask me about the number of lines per verse, if you want to fund a certain number of verses.
So far sponsors include: mdlbear, technoshaman, thesilentpoet

FULLY FUNDED!
174 lines, Buy It Now = $87
Amount donated = $78
Verses posted = 41 of 48

Amount remaining to fund fully = $9
Amount needed to fund next verse = $1
Amount needed to fund the verse after that = $1.50


WARNING: This poem centers around a funeral and touches on difficult family issues.  Think about whether that's something you want to read right now.



Gathered Here Today

I sat in the front row of the funeral
with the rest of my family,
wife and daughter and son
all clinging to me.

At the far end of the row
my little sister stared at her husband's coffin
and tried not to cry herself sick
while her daughter bawled on her shoulder.

Between us,
with an empty chair on either side,
my nephew sat unmoving.

The words pattered down from the pulpit,
as clear and meaningless as rain.
"We are gathered here today
to celebrate the life,
and mourn the passing ..."

The windows rattled,
although there was no wind.

My sister flinched.
My nephew didn't move,
and it would have been too conspicuous
for me to cross the open space between us.
I racked my brain for a solution,
but couldn't think of one.

The lurking shadow slipped out
from under my scarf,
glided across the floor
where no one was looking,
and reached up to take hold
of my nephew's hand.

He startled at the contact
and looked sidelong at me.
I gave him a tiny nod
and looked down at his hand.

Slowly he turned it palm up
and the shadow pooled there,
silent comforting touch of a friend.
They stayed that way
through the entire service.

Sometimes human contact
is more than you can bear,
but you don't exactly want
to be all alone either.

The lurking shadow was the only one
of our special family visible at the moment,
but I knew that the little old lady ghost
was hiding in thin air, and that
the monster in the closet
had probably found a place to listen in.

They gave their care where they chose,
and my nephew had caught their attention
on his occasional visits.

The funeral was gently done,
the minister considerate
to people of other faiths.

Only afterwards did sharp words come out,
my sister squabbling with her in-laws
who had sat across the aisle.

Once again my nephew stood a little aside,
hugging himself and the lurking shadow.

I took a step toward him,
but as soon as I did,
he backed away,
and so I left him alone.

At the grave we all gathered together
under the flimsy pavilion
to throw flowers and dirt down on the coffin.
My nephew flung a clod so hard
that it boomed off the hollow box like a rock.

Everyone stared.

He walked away then,
fast and stiff,
and his mother let him go.

After the end of the graveside ceremony,
the other mourners broke apart
into little clots of sorrow or gossip,
depending on how much or how little
they had known my brother-in-law.

"Car accidents are so jarring,"
someone said. "It's worse
when you have no time to prepare."

"No, no, terminal illnesses are the worst,"
another voice argued. "It's harder
to watch someone you love fade away slowly."

As if pain could be weighed
like so many apples in the pan of a scale.

I resisted the urge to snap at them
and instead murmured a reminder
that it would be polite to stay focused
on the funeral at hand.

My sister and her son were arguing.
They did it quietly, but I could see
the trouble in the taut lines of their shoulders.

"Shall I extend an invitation?"
I asked my family,
and they all nodded.

So I walked over to where
my sister and my nephew stood.
Their voices dropped away
as I approached.

"We're going out for supper
at the Overstuffed Couch," I said.
It was a favorite place specializing in comfort food.
"We can always make room for more
if anyone else wants to come."

Silently my nephew stepped to my side.
Sometimes family is about blood,
sometimes it's about choice,
and other times a little bit of both.

"Fine," my sister said hoarsely.
"Just make sure he's home by Sunday night.
He has school on Monday."

"Agreed," I said.
It wasn't what I had expected
but he'd get better support here
than he would at home.

"I hated him," my nephew said suddenly
on the way to the parking lot.
"He hit me once, when I tried to tell him -- well.
Doesn't matter now. But it was only the once,
I said I'd call the cops if he did it again."

"I wish I'd known anyway," I said.
Once would have been reason enough
for me to call the police.

He shook his head. "I loved him too.
Stupid, isn't it? He was so disappointed in me.
But he was my father, so I loved him."

"That's life," I said.
"Sometimes it's a mix of love and hate,
sorrow and relief."

His face crumpled,
but he didn't say anything more.

After we climbed into the car,
I asked, "Is there anyone else
you'd like to have for support?"

"My boyfriend," he said.

"Call him," I suggested.
"We can cover another person."

"I can't. Mom took my phone,"
he said bitterly. "She doesn't approve."

I reached back over the seat with mine.
"Call him," I said again. "If he really loves you,
he'll be sitting right by his phone
hoping you can get your hands on one."

And God bless the boyfriend,
he was waiting at the restaurant
by the time we pulled into the parking lot,
a tense knot of blond hair and bluejean jacket
with jeweled studs flashing in both earlobes,
who probably looked like a delinquent to anyone else.

Me, I was just grateful
that my nephew finally had
a shoulder he felt able to cry on.

The lurking shadow crept across the pavement
and back under the shelter of my scarf.
The parking lot smelled of fried chicken
and hot apple pie.

The boyfriend watched me,
a little wary of strangers,
but I just smiled and
beckoned him into our party.

It was a little hard for him to walk
with my nephew sobbing in his arms,
but we managed to get the two of them
tucked into the corner of a booth
as we settled into place around them.

My sister might have her doubts
and her damn prejudices,
but as far as I was concerned,

any teenager who was willing to drop
whatever he was doing on a Friday night
to come comfort his boyfriend
falling apart over a death in the family
could be trusted to put him back together again.

* * *

Notes:

The funeral quote comes from a batch of sample text for services.

Interfaith funerals are more challenging because they must balance very different needs.  There are instructions for planning an interfaith or secular funeral.  Respecting each other's beliefs will help make the experience more positive for everyone.

Funeral etiquette helps avoid conflicts.  Read some tips on what to say and do.  Remember that people tend to feel overwhelmed at a funeral, so try to be gentle with yourself and others.

Family violence is a widespread problem.  It includes spousal and child abuse.  Sometimes it happens only once, but usually it's ongoing.  Survivors of abuse often love their abuser, which can cause very conflicted feelings after the abuser's death.

Know how to comfort a friend who has lost a loved one.

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32 comments or Leave a comment
Comments
thesilentpoet From: thesilentpoet Date: November 8th, 2013 10:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Let me know where this poem is in another week or two? I have a bit of not-quite-unexpected-but-still-not-wholly-planned money coming to me mid-month. and I'd like to throw a few dollars into this pot if it still needs it!



Edited at 2013-11-08 10:38 pm (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 8th, 2013 10:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I have made a note to update you on this.
(Deleted comment)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 9th, 2013 11:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm happy to hear that. Some things may be too edgy to be "liked" but can still be appreciated.
aldersprig From: aldersprig Date: November 14th, 2013 04:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
*sniffles* well done.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 15th, 2013 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

I'm glad you liked this.
ladymondegreen From: ladymondegreen Date: November 16th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I really like the direction this took. I was interpreting the nephew as initially much younger, possibly because of how grief stricken he was. I like the way you drew together the elements of abuse and grief and comfort with inter-personal conflict through all of them.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 16th, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> I really like the direction this took. <<

Thank you!

>> I was interpreting the nephew as initially much younger, <<

I'm figuring teenager, probably early to middle teens. This originally came up in the previous poem where he mentioned his sexual orientation. While some people know theirs all along, many discover it only during puberty (and a few even later).

>> possibly because of how grief stricken he was. <<

Adults can feel grief just as deeply as children. The older people get, the more likely they are to turn strong emotions inward rather than expressing them outward. Refusing to touch or talk to anyone is one example -- although it's more common in teens, because adults often learn more controlled yet healthier ways of coping with their feelings.

>> I like the way you drew together the elements of abuse and grief and comfort with inter-personal conflict through all of them. <<

I knew from the first poem that it wasn't a very happy home, but I didn't know there was actual abuse until he belted it out like that. So of course there's a big ugly tangle of emotions, on top of the home life making matters worse instead of better. It's a good example of how extended family can ameliorate some of the damage. Once I had all that stuff on the table, I wanted to explore the complications.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: November 17th, 2013 01:03 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm reminded of the funeral of a friend, back in the eighties. Her family was Catholic, but she was neo-pagan and had been quite explicit that she did not want a Christian funeral. The memorial was conducted by a priest, but he honored her wishes, very honorably imo.

We were both members of an informal gaming group where we all worked: We would meet at lunch to play D&D. This woman often spoke of herself as a Discordian. I brought a Golden Delicious apple to the funeral, and during the memorial I used the small blade of my Swiss Army knife to carve a κ into it: a lowercase kappa for καλλίστη, "For the fairest" (the inscription on the golden apple that Eris, goddess of discord, rolled into a gathering from which she had been excluded, leading to an argument, the Judgement of Paris, and the Trojan War).

Also at the service was another member of our gaming group. At the graveside I showed the priest the apple, explained it briefly (probably more so than I did just above :-\), and asked permission to bury it with her. He asked me whether her Discordianism was serious or just a game. Simultaneously we answered "Some of each" and "Both". He nodded okay, and I rolled the apple into the grave with the casket.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 17th, 2013 02:56 am (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts

>>The memorial was conducted by a priest, but he honored her wishes, very honorably imo.<<

That's good to hear, and very fortunate.

>> This woman often spoke of herself as a Discordian. I brought a Golden Delicious apple to the funeral, and during the memorial I used the small blade of my Swiss Army knife to carve a κ into it: a lowercase kappa for καλλίστη, "For the fairest" <<

So. Much. WIN.

I'll keep this in mind for Discordian funerals.

>> He asked me whether her Discordianism was serious or just a game. Simultaneously we answered "Some of each" and "Both". He nodded okay, and I rolled the apple into the grave with the casket. <<

Yay!

Given the nature of the Discordian religion, if you're 100% serious about it, you're probably doing it wrong.
natf From: natf Date: November 18th, 2013 06:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Do Nephew and Boyfriend have names?
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 18th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)

No...

They don't. That's true of most characters in this series.
eseme From: eseme Date: November 26th, 2013 03:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
This series... I love it. I am less fond of the dimension-travelling grandmother, but this... This is a great poem, and a wonderful addition to the series. I'm hoping we get some collected volumes of a few of your series someday, as I'd love to share it with others and some prefer dead-tree or single ebook experiences.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 26th, 2013 08:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> This series... I love it. <<

I'm happy to hear that.

>> I am less fond of the dimension-travelling grandmother, but this... <<

It's okay for people to favor different characters. That happens in most series. The fun thing about a big ensemble cast like Monster House has is that there's something for everyone to enjoy. You can always ask for more of your favorite characters. That's a significant part of what shapes the frequency of appearances.

>> This is a great poem, and a wonderful addition to the series. <<

Yay! I'm glad you liked it so much.

>> I'm hoping we get some collected volumes of a few of your series someday, as I'd love to share it with others and some prefer dead-tree or single ebook experiences. <<

That's part of the plan, yes.
From: (Anonymous) Date: May 9th, 2017 10:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Very happy that the nephew has fairly easy access to supportive, sympathetic relatives. Yet another example of why Monster House is so full of win! - Callibr8
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: May 9th, 2017 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> Very happy that the nephew has fairly easy access to supportive, sympathetic relatives. <<

Yay! I'm glad that you enjoyed that part. It's inspired by various accounts of gay people's shitty adolescence, and how things should go instead.

>> Yet another example of why Monster House is so full of win! - Callibr8 <<

:D It's a popular series.
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