Tongues of Fire

July 14, 1992
10: 00 AM

we step out of unfamiliar cars, in an unfamiliar neighborhood into an unknown church.

this is my nephew’s funeral. his light brown hair and skin gathered in an urn. this is neutral ground, not Presbyterian, not Catholic, not the place of forgiveness.

named for his father
he never saw his daughter —
lineage of fire

we are the frozen chosen, the uptight upright, the pet name labels for Presbyterians — appropriate. my father, his grandmother sit as crisply as their clothes, held together by the corset of middle class indignation. this must be a proper service, no charismatic calls to death, only silent weeping until the Big Man takes the stage.

best friend, brother man
carrying a boom box
burns up pretense

it seems my nephew had one wish for his funeral, one. so, any best friend must carry that cross no matter how strange to the pulpit. he ascends, rippling with tears, a 6-foot river, 2 feet wide, we wade in the water. he is our spiritual and we are ready to sing with him, best friend, river rippling.

what song will he give us? what piece of my oldest nephew will he pull from the fiery furnace of the hotel burning, the room that had consumed him? i had always told him not to smoke in bed.

we are waiting, the thought of the lyrics climbing into our throats. Stand by Me? Lean on Me? What will it be? We begin to weep.

push the button
truth echoes through the chapel —
hypocrisy flowers

the music begins. the familiar beat and then, “Oh my god, Becky, her butt is so big. I like big butts and I cannot lie; all the other brothers can deny…”

we are a frozen scene.

after the funeral, nieces, nephews and aunties, all the same age, sneak away to smoke, drink and tell the truth until after midnight.

our laughter —
church bell chimes heralding
his ascent