“Have Coffin, Need Pallbearers” by James Gering

James Gering


I’m celebrating my 48th. No birthday paraphernalia
in the house, so I’ll blow out a mourner’s candle
stuck in a muffin. My son usually calls,

but last time I said no need. That boy is too bloody literal.
Should I email myself? Happy returns, you old sod.
Maybe a selfie with the muffin raised high?

No—I will send out notes in bottles.
Hello, son, remember me? A birthday tree
has just fallen in my forest.

A rogue note: Have coffin, need pallbearers.
So why am I hanging around? How absurd, this train
of thought that will, if let, gather all the pace it needs.

The window breeze calms me and a voice
floats up from the playground, a mother singing
happy birthday to her daughter.

I want to pluck one of the birthday wishes
out of the air, but the mother stops singing
and looks up. I realise I’ve been singing along.

In a feat that startles me, I say, “Hi there,
birthday girl, would you and your mum
like to come over for birthday cake?”

from Rattle #56, Summer 2017
Tribute to Poets with Mental Illness

[download audio]


James Gering: “Depression takes various forms in my poetry. I used to think writing came first, now I believe health is paramount—of body, mind, and emotion. When writers approach optimal health, they have a stable base for sustainable writing. The character in my poem reaches out to people, despite himself. He houses the wisdom, in a remote embryonic chamber, that ongoing solitude and its array of pitfalls are detrimental to his cause. When I am writing sustainably, my poems gradually take on life. Some of them have been gestating for over five years. I regularly visit the notebooks and files housing them and meander through, waiting for insight, waiting for a sublime line or metaphor to elevate the poem such that it gains weight, warmth, and shape while shedding all remnants of melodrama and sentimentality.” (website)

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