Poetry for a Beloved’s Funeral Service

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Musings on Writing and Life.

It’s almost a cliché by now: We use poetry to mark rites of passage, to commemorate profound and seismic societal events, to celebrate a life’s beginning, and to mark a life’s end. When my dear, dear friend LaVerne died on January 6, 2016, I was beyond bereft and turned to poetry of course. I was unable to make it to her funeral service, so I sent the following—

LaVerne and I met when she started her job in Cornell University’s information technology division (where I also worked)—I think it was 1989. Our friendship was instantaneous, there’s no other word for it. I was about to start my master’s degree at SUNY/Binghamton where LaVerne’s husband, Darryl, was on the political science faculty and they then lived. Many nights LaVerne stayed with me and  my son, Colin, in Ithaca rather than make the hefty commute home. Ditto for me camping in LaVerne and Darryl’s spare room in Binghamton whenever I had an evening creative writing event. Over the years, we talked, listened, laughed, and cried. We walked, swam, danced, celebrated, mourned, counseled, and consoled. And we always kept in touch.

There is so much more to be said to honor and eulogize my dear and most beloved friend. But I will save those comments for the March 28th celebration of LaVerne’s extraordinary life. For now, thanks to the miracle of the Internet and electronic mail, I offer two poems. The first is by Ruth Stone who taught poetry at SUNY/Binghamton pretty much up until her death at age 96 in 2011.

Train Ride

by Ruth Stone

All things come to an end;
small calves in Arkansas,
the bend of the muddy river.
Do all things come to an end?
No, they go on forever.
They go on forever, the swamp,
the vine-choked cypress, the oaks
rattling last year’s leaves,
the thump of the rails, the kite,
the still white stilted heron.
All things come to an end.
The red clay bank, the spread hawk,
the bodies riding this train,
the stalled truck, pale sunlight, the talk;
the talk goes on forever,
the wide dry field of geese,
a man stopped near his porch
to watch. Release, release;
between cold death and a fever,
send what you will, I will listen.
All things come to an end.
No, they go on forever.

As we all know, LaVerne grew up with Motown. She loved classical music, jazz, and the opera as well. She loved to laugh and had a superbly ironic sense of humor. She was unfailingly gracious yet respectfully irreverent. I have to think this second poem would be one she herself might have chosen…


by Lawrence Raab

For a long time I was sure
it should be “Jumping Jack Flash,” then
the adagio from Schubert’s C major Quintet,
but right now I want Oscar Peterson’s

“You Look Good to Me.” That’s my request.
Play it at the end of the service,
after my friends have spoken.
I don’t believe I’ll be listening in,

but sitting here I’m imagining
you could be feeling what I’d like to feel—
defiance from the Stones, grief
and resignation with Schubert, but now

Peterson and Ray Brown are making
the moment sound like some kind
of release. Sad enough
at first, but doesn’t it slide into

tapping your feet, then clapping
your hands, maybe standing up
in that shadowy hall in Paris
in the late sixties when this was recorded,

getting up and dancing
as I would not have done,
and being dead, cannot, but might
wish for you, who would then

understand what a poem—or perhaps only
the making of a poem, just that moment
when it starts, when so much
is still possible—

has allowed me to feel.
Happy to be there. Carried away.

Nancy Flynn
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