Monday, April 15, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 15: “The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead” by Jane Hirshfield

Read “The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead” in the literary journal Pangolin House here.

This is my go-to funeral poem. That sounds crass, but really, everybody needs at least one poem that will make people feel better after someone they loved has died. And what better poem than this one, with its very real people, their skipping, their bad jokes? This poem is disarming, and a little funny, and also very, very tender. And it poses a genuine question: Would not any dead person want to be back on Earth for a little while, just for the pleasures? Wouldn’t that be the greatest gift we could give them? And isn’t that, in turn, the greatest gift we have, our time on Earth?

I know that whenever I read this poem, I think of my dad—what would he want to come back to do? I’m hoping he’d want to eat ice cream with me at Baskin-Robbins. Him with his little pink plastic spoon, me with my much-too-large double scoop cone, some Tommy Dorsey on the store PA, my dad tapping his feet. Someone once scolded him, “Can’t you take anything seriously?” He thought that was the funniest thing ever; he repeated that story for years, a badge of honor.

The first time I read this poem was in a “Poets for Peace” anthology that I picked up at a reading at SFSU’s San Francisco Poetry Center. Poems for peace are all fine and well, but really, I think this is a poem for joy.

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]

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