Whetstone Parish

(a story posted here because I have decided that this story is for readings exclusively and I will never attempt to publish it, ever)

Whetstone Parish

On the day we buried the richest man in town,
The preacher stood up on the hood of a silver 1979 Datsun 280Z
Raised a bottle of bourbon above his head and said:
Brothers and sisters,
May all of our scores be settled
And all of our sins be paid for in cash
But not today

There were children folding marigolds
Out of yellow paper to tuck behind their ears
And the old boys were strapping trombones to their bodies
And rolling their pants up past their ankles,
Their knees knobby and calves the color of fishbones,
As white as the hair of the man
They were burying

The whole town showed up that day:
My nephews were popping candy into their mouths
Shaped like colorful skulls
And the ghosts were grinning in storefronts
Like it was their holiday too.
When we walk on days like this,
We walk as they do:
Feet dragging trenches into the dirt roads,
Scar tissue for the earth to heal up after it takes you.

The pallbearers were men with prison tattoos
That they wore poking out of their suit sleeves
Like cufflinks and they carried 40s jammed into
Paper bags marked with Xs
Like the eyes of cartoon corpses.
There were chorus girls weeping
Whose makeup never runs past their eyelashes,
Fingernails done up like razorsharp sunrises
And around their necks they wore the jewelry
We looted from his mansion on Main Street
Passed down from a series of ancestors
Who had looted our home countries just generations before

As for me, halfway down the sidewalk,
I forget I didn’t just come for the music.
There were trumpets blaring electric and golden
and drums pounding like they meant to shake the dust out of Heaven’s rafters.
We carried the dead man out of the house to the Datsun
And the pallbearers took up their places behind the bumper.
I have heard say that Death is a grinning skeleton
In a top hat who spends every day drunk at the crossroads
And his name is Saturday.
He has a fondness for tobacco just like we do
And his hands shake when he talks just like ours do
And he often spills the glass of rum he carries
As he makes vulgar passes at the women spirits
Who absolutely hate him but can’t resist him
It is possible to live forever if you can stay alive
After a night of drinking at his side
Until he passes out in a chair and you have enough strength
To hoist yourself out of your grave for the night.
Without saying so, everyone of us knows we are indestructible.

As we approach the banks of the river,
Our procession stretches back for miles.
The pallbearers labor to keep the Datsun moving
Through the wet sand but they move forward valiantly.
With a final shove, the Datsun is afloat on the river’s current
And we stand together in the shallow waters
To watch nature take back the man
Who worked hard from an early age to defy it.
In time, the car will become waterlogged
and sit at the bottom of the basin
rusting and becoming a home to fresh water creatures
Who will know nothing and care even less
About the sleek and stylish way their new habitat is constructed.

As the sun sank into horizon,
The sky as red as the face of Death
Drunk at the gate of the apocalypse,
The brass section disassembled themselves
And the preacher, standing knee-deep in the water,
Turned to us and said:

Come closer, because I’m gonna let you in on a little secret
We’re all going to die someday
And there isn’t enough money in this world to save you.
There’s the fairness you’ve been looking for.

All the judgment and vengeance for your selfishness in this world
Will come from those whose feet you will not live to see swept
From these shores
And if you really want to be saved,
Use them coins over your eyes to tip the bartender who best comforts you today
And listen close to anyone who can tell you something new,
‘cause the only thing I can tell you about the man waiting for you
At the crossroads
Is that he’s tired of our lame-ass excuses.


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