Parting is all we know of heaven,
And all we need of hell.
— Emily Dickinson
Poems on Passing
On the way to the village store
I drive through a down-draft
from the neighbor’s chimney.
Woodsmoke tumbles from the eaves
backlit by sun, reminding me
of the fire and sulfur of Grandmother’s
vengeful God, the one who disapproves
of jeans and shorts for girls,
dancing, strong waters, and adultery.
A moment later the smoke enters
the car, although the windows are tight,
insinuating that I might, like Judas,
and the foolish virgins, and the rich
young man, have been made for unquenchable
fire. God will need something to burn
if the fire is to be unquenchable.
“All things work together for the good
for those who love God,” she said
to comfort me at Uncle Hazen’s funeral,
where Father held me up to see
the maroon gladiolus that trembled
as we approached the bier, the elaborate
shirred satin, brass fittings, anything,
oh, anything but Uncle’s squelched
and made-up face.
“No! NO! How is it good to be dead?”
I cried afterward, wild-eyed and flushed.
“God’s ways are not our ways,”
she said then out of pity
and the wish to forestall the argument.
— Jane Kenyon
from Collected Poems, Graywolf Press