The Bicycle Hearse
Families paid the boy a few coins
to ride their dead to the cemetery.
Cars, seized-metal for the war effort.
Men, scarce-and those that remained,
too weak to carry a coffin down winter streets.
So the boy fixed a cart to his bicycle,
a canopied cart from which his father
once sold a great variety of fruit.
But that was before the war.
Does it matter which one? An old one.
There were plenty of dead.
The boy saved his coins in a box.
There was nothing to buy,
nothing he really wanted:
a real cake or a wristwatch.
One day, the boy brought some money
to a dusty clothing shop.
An old woman in the back
scratched out a letter in her halting hand;
she was not expecting customers.
The boy browsed and, from a shelf,
fetched a top hat of dark brown silk.
I will wear this for the dead, he thought.
He arranged twelve coins on the counter.
The woman nodded, no need to count:
if a boy fancied a hat, in these times,
let him have it, let him have it.
Several sizes too large, he was impressed
with how perfectly it fit.
And on the days he rode the dead
to the fields, in his father's cart,
he was a little taller.
And how the women cried
behind the ridiculous gesture.