American Life in Poetry: Column 133


It may be that we are most alone when attending funerals, at least that’s how it seems to me. By alone I mean that even among throngs of mourners we pull back within ourselves and peer out at life as if through a window. David Baker, an Ohio poet, offers us a picture of a funeral that could be anybody’s.


A short ride in the van, then the eight of us   
there in the heat—white shirtsleeves sticking,   
the women’s gloves off—fanning our faces.   
   The workers had set up a big blue tent   
       to help us at graveside tolerate the sun,   
    which was brutal all afternoon as if   
stationed above us, though it moved limb   
   to limb through two huge, covering elms.   

      The long processional of neighbors, friends,   
   the town’s elderly, her beauty-shop patrons,   
her club’s notables. . . The world is full of   
   prayers arrived at from afterwards, he said.   

      Look up through the trees—the hands, the leaves   
curled as in self-control or quietly hurting,   
or now open, flat-palmed, many-fine-veined,   
    and whether from heat or sadness, waving.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © 2004 by David Baker, whose most recent book of poetry is Midwest Eclogue, W. W. Norton, 2006. Reprinted from Virginia Quarterly Review, Winter, 2004, by permission of David Baker. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.