The Coffin Store
by C. K. Williams
I was lugging my death from Kampala to Kraków.
Death, what a ridiculous load you can be,
like the world atremble on Atlas’s shoulders.
In Kampala I’d wondered why the people, so poor,
didn’t just kill me. Why don’t they kill me?
In Kraków I must have fancied I’d find poets to talk to.
I still believed then I’d domesticated my death,
that he’d no longer gnaw off my fingers and ears.
We even had parties together: “Happy,” said death,
and gave me my present, a coffin, my coffin,
made in Kampala, with a sliding door in its lid,
to look through, at the sky, at the birds, at Kampala.
That was his way, I soon understood, of reverting
to talon and snarl, for the door refused to come open:
no sky, no bird, no poets, no Kraków.
Catherine came to me then, came to me then,
“Open your eyes, mon amour,” but death
had undone me, my knuckles were raw as an ape’s,
my mind slid like a sad-ankled skate, and no matter
what Catherine was saying, was sighing, was singing,
“Mon amour, mon amour,” the door stayed shut, oh, shut.
I heard trees being felled, skinned, smoothed,
hammered together as coffins. I heard death
snorting and stamping, impatient to be hauled off, away.
But here again was Catherine, sighing, and singing,
and the tiny carved wooden door slid ajar, just enough—
the sky, one single bird, Catherine—just enough.