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SHJ Issue 17
Fall 2017

I Don’t Want a Funeral

by Michelle Bitting

I’ve no desire to be tucked into the ordered bricks of the family columbarium, much as I love that church with its medieval pipes and every Easter the lunatic Wisteria overrun by black bee asylums high on weeping nectar. Not even its original prayer garden that survived the big fire of ’76 can sell me such burial. Not the carved statue of St. Francis, his cheek nuzzled by attendant deer, not the dove on his sleeve tweeting Good News, not the giant gnarled sycamores we’d climb like mythological squid—jungle gyms that hefted us high and away over the city. Once we snuck into the sacristy and consumed sacraments off hours. I knew where priests hid the key and feeling for the cold nail under the sink where they’d lean to brace and baptize themselves, eyes pep-talked out of weary in the chipped mirror at Big Game time. So many souls to boost, spirits to raise, the dead one more day. It feels almighty when it’s all holy all the time, even that naughty me and my sidekick, Velma, more along for my mischievous ride, reaching for what didn’t belong to us. We never drank the wine; it was the bread we were after. Fistfuls crammed against tongues, burying our teeth in a pile of hosts tasting faintly of cardboard, each stamped, dead center, with miniature crosses, pasty in my palm, perfect signs to match my nervous lines, life-veins, fortune. I swallowed tall stacks, wanting to be saved—self-service, sacrificial. We’re only human and sometimes standing in the kitchen late at night with my husband, our hands and tongues groping, grabbing whole moons of him from behind, I think of past plunders, how there’s still something supernatural about hunger after so many years and how sometimes I’d like him to fuck me in all my places at once—fingers, cock, tongue—a gymnasium of pleasure, my mouth a knight lusting for unknown grail. I’ll repeat: don’t bury me. Not when what I want is to take it all in and zip up, disappeared. To reject marker, being marked, bound, plotted, arrested. Isn’t death enough of an impediment? We burn and there’s an uncontrollable fire, and then containers for ashes arrive in the mail. I tried to cram the Holy Ghost into my mouth, daring parents, the men in robes to catch me. Deliver me transparency, a slow wind and shift to invisible. Like Jesus and Claude Rains only showed form, bound by gauze and then unraveling. No, when I die, make a little boat and let me out, my sails set to sea, my dust launched to a red horizon. This ashen tongue will lick the sun and dissolve, remembering its place: first flesh to taste and last to forget the bread, the cup, this body risen in light.

—Previously published in Bitting’s The Couple Who Fell to Earth (C&R Press, 2016); appears here with permissions from author and publisher

SHJ Issue 17
Fall 2017

Michelle Bitting’s

third collection of poetry, The Couple Who Fell to Earth, was named among Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2016. Her poems are published in The American Poetry Review, Narrative, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times, Vinyl Poetry, Plume, Diode, the Paris-American, Green Mountains Review, Harvard Review (“Renga for Obama”), Thrush, Raleigh Review, AJP, Verdad, Fjords, and others. Her poems have also appeared on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily; and have been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net prizes (including Best of the Net 2017 from Thrush Poetry Journal) and, most recently, The Pablo Neruda, American Literary Review, and Tupelo Quarterly Poetry contests.

Author’s website:

“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury