At Milward Funeral Home, Lexington, KY

By Jeff Worley

Featured art: Bloemenzee by Theo van Hoytema

Someone has to identify the body.
The funeral facilitator, Jeanne,
gestures me into the room and clicks
the door shut behind me.

You finally got your wish,
I say to my mother.
She’s wearing a shade of lipstick
that unbecomes her, a subtle peach
she would have hated. Her face
is her face and of course is not,
her hair parted in the middle,
a new look. Her hands, composed
across her sternum, are the color
of parchment, skin thin as vellum.

I don’t stroke her arm. I don’t kiss
her forehead, as I thought I would.
Instead, I wonder, oddly, if the funeral
people use the same gorgeous quilt
that covers my mother now,
with its sunbursts and bluebirds,
for everybody.

When I think I have stayed long enough,
Brahms trailing off in the corners,
Jeanne is sitting outside the door,
her long fingers forming a steeple.
I want to say to her I have no idea
who that is, I’m sorry, but levity
isn’t encouraged here. Although
I would only be speaking the truth:
Alzheimer’s riddled her brain
and sucked the marrow from her spirit;
she became a stranger and a stranger
to herself. What else was there to do
but believe along with her that Hoss
and his Bonanza brothers were indeed
aliens from another planet, that Pat Sajak
was “in on it,” along with everyone else
who came and went in Mom’s room,
stealing her clothes, her makeup,
the nursing home grand conspiracy . . .

I’m sorry it’s taking me so long,
Mom said in a rare lucid moment
last week, and I had nothing to say,
and I tugged the blanket snugly
under her chin, and I handed her
the plastic cup full of water which
she waved away.


Jeff Worley, Kentucky Poet Laureate for 2019-2021, is the author of six books of poetry and an anthology from University Press of Kentucky titled What Comes Down to Us: 25 Contemporary Kentucky Poets. His book Happy Hour at the Two Keys Tavern was named 2006 Kentucky Book of the Year in Poetry and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Worley has received numerous other awards for his writing, including three Al Smith Fellowships from the Kentucky Arts Council and a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship. He and his wife, Linda, divide their time between Lexington and their cabin at Cave Run Lake.

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