They had arranged the chairs out on the lawn
in the shade of fat, old elm trees.
There were more chairs there
than anybody recollected having seen before,
rows and rows, but still there weren't enough
to go around. Somebody sent a boy
off to a neighbour's house to get some more.
Pretty soon a tall green tractor pulled a wagon
to the gate: the neighbour's chairs.
Quickly then we took them down and made
another row in front. The family moved up.
These chairs were covered up with dust sheets
so the family stood up once again
so we could take the dust sheets off.
There they were, good parlour chairs, walnut,
green brocade and needlepoint. Nearly everybody
found a seat, but there were stragglers standing still.
We popped some squeaky folding chairs out at the back.
Old men and women sighed and shifted where they sat.
A cousin from New Brunswick slept lightly
in her motor-powered wheelchair.
Children fidgeted in tiny chairs from Mexico, brightly painted,
the tightly woven reed seats beginning to let go.
Some one was playing the piano softly in the kitchen.
Nobody could tell me why he used to keep
his grand piano there. I found a tall, four-legged stool
that no one wanted. Perched up high above the others,
I watched the sea of heads, the nodding, rustling hats,
while obsequies droned on
across the summer afternoon
like the sound of some one working slowly
on a combine harvester, heard at a great distance.
The Antigonish Review, 104 (Winter, 1996): 32.
Anthology of Magazine Verse and Yearbook of American Poetry, 1997.
© 1996 by K.J.H. Berland