Two Wakes

John Menaghan


When my grandmother died, my mother’s mother,

I was in third grade. The funeral parlor

sat across the street from my school, and for

two days instead of going home I walked

from the school to the spot where Grandma lay,

looking better than she had in years, but

cold and dead. I sat in the back, far from

the corpse, and tried to keep out of trouble,

but between visitors kept my sad mother

company, and felt the strangeness not just

of the event, occasion but of being

in this weird, fragrant room rather than home.


Now the custom has changed. No afternoons,

and just one evening, for my father‘s wake.

But we’re back in the same funeral parlor,

run now by the daughter, whose own father died

some years back. The sign’s been altered to

reflect her hyphenated name. They’ve done

their best with Dad. He too looks better now,

though that just makes it seem some impostor

lies in his coffin. But it’s him, of course.

And yet it’s not. He‘s here, and yet he’s gone.

And all I know of who he was lives now

solely, though vividly, inside of me,

while he lies still. At least, his body does.


When Grandma died, I felt enormous guilt

because I didn’t miss her all that much.

A crabby old woman who once forced me

to bathe in the kitchen sink, making me

favor showers for the rest of my life.

But I miss my father terribly, sense

I’ll miss him more and more as time goes on.

Already he’s become for me a man

whose faults I love as much as his good points.

Faults? I hear him say, in mock surprise.

What faults? The priest is praying over him.

Yet I know, or think I do, he needs no

help to make his way through heaven’s gate, if

such a place exists, and he does as well.

Though even now I cannot seem to pray,

I hope angels have met him on his way.


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