“The Service” by Trina Burke

Trina Burke


Just us. Six left.
The family.
And there’s the minister whose name is Jack
or John or Jim or some such monosyllabic
good-folks tag. We don’t know him.
My nephew, he’s five, he’s sitting right next to me, almost
on me, so we’ll all fit huddled together on one pew,
my nephew stretches up so his mouth is in my ear and he whispers,
“What’s that?” and he’s pointing at the casket, but I answer
like he’s pointing at the flowers and I say, “That’s flowers.”
“No, that,” he says, very pointedly pointing at the casket,
so I play it off, “Oh, that’s a casket,” and he looks at me like I’m stupid or something.
“What’s it for?” I’m pretty sure I’m not the one to tell him,
but seeing as how it seems that his parents didn’t explain that we’re all dressed up
for a funeral and not Chuck E. Cheese, I tell him, “Nana’s in there.”
And he says, “Really?”
and he’s really incredulous. Like it never occurred to him.
And I say, “Really.”
And he looks at me with one eye smaller than the other,
head cocked at an angle, like when you ask a dog a question,
like it’s all kind of cool and weird but he shouldn’t say so,
so he purses his lips
and fiddles with my skirt,
and rests his hand on my leg and says instead,
“How long is this going to take?”

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007


Trina Burke: “John Ashbery once said, ‘My life doesn’t seem interesting to me. We all have basically the same experiences. I write about what I don’t know.’ Most of the time, I would agree. ‘The Service’ is a departure in style for me. Writing it was a lesson in the multiplicity of functions that poetry can serve—its predilection for conjuring the unknown as well as its ability to place an inscrutable personal moment in conversation with something much larger.”

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