Scenes from a Redneck Street Funeral

Pitbulls
babies
and Skynyrd
in the sanctuary

Cigarette smoke
self-medicating mourners
and
one guy wrenching on a broke down van
in the church parking lot

Lipstick
flip flops
switchblades
the shakes
stuff lots more people would wear to a funeral
if they could get away with it

I never met you but I know your wife and your street family
so
I’m here too me and my kid

We picked up a friend with one leg on our way
he got out of the hospital three weeks ago
still bandaged up at the knee
he didn’t want to see anybody when we pulled up he said
“just drop me in the back
someplace not too public
I don’t want to talk to anybody
I don’t go to these things”
he used to collect on street debts
been hiding out some since the surgery

There’s other amputees here
one young-ish Native guy missing an arm
who talked about how you protected him
another, even younger (limbs intact), said he got in a fight once
at the fair when
suddenly
“I felt like I was superman– there I was flying through
the air
because he had picked me up outta there
by my belt!”
people cracked up
some said “me too
he did that with me too”

More tattoos here than I’ve seen in church before
even hipster church
and these tattoos
have seen
a lot
more
sun
a lot
more
prison
that’s where most of them
were dreamed and drawn

Many many
women here
told stories about you protecting them
from other men
some
mentioned your own temper
all are grieving
all of it’s true

We had to fundraise so your family could collect your ashes
we had to hit the florist up for a donated arrangement
your street kids already threw you one memorial
on the spot
where you died
on the day you died
because getting a church space
getting your remains back
getting food for the reception
getting flowers
getting your picture printed up on a card
it all costs money
costs so much money
costs too much money
there was no guarantee we could get it
but we got it
but in the meantime
it doesn’t cost money to build a wooden cross
out of stolen pallets
it doesn’t cost money to build a bonfire
if you know how to live off the land
it doesn’t cost much
to pour out a fifth
these streets
up and emptied all their pockets for you
every nickel
every scrap
every ounce of every kind of back alley comfort

Good bad and ugly
you gave this crowd
all of yourself
you gave this crowd
the shirt off your back
the tarp over your head
the very mixed blessing of your fists depending on the terms
the hyper-vigilance and non-judgment of your protectiveness in a heroin town
the skills you knew for surviving the winter outside
I have seen these same hard hollow young men
many times before
in many bad situations that haunted me afterwards
I have never seen them weep until now
I have never seen them give a woman flowers until today
bouquets plucked from someone else’s yard, delicately arranged in used plastic bottles
presented on bended knee
to your wife
who looks both ravaged
and radiant
her hair done
a new color

My son is ten months old
he loves the whole event
(except for the smaller yipping dogs)
he loves the big dogs
he loves the big emotions
he loves the big music
he loves the light coming through the church glass
he loves to curl his head shy into my shoulder while smiling at the young widows
and the mothers whose own children have been taken away
and the guys who never get a chance to be soft and silly with another human except
once in a blue moon
someone else’s baby

I went to get my friend with the one leg when I was leaving the reception
in the church basement
he was sitting eating with a few people
he was laughing
he said “I’d like to hang out here for a while
I’ll ask the pastor
for a ride back to my motel
I want to stay”

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About aaron

Catechist at Chaplains on the Harbor.
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