Great Uncle Walter

by Em Taylor

My Uncle Ray and his friend Lenny
are reunited for the first time in decades,
and the trip down memory lane has been
fully floored. With my whole dad’s side
of the family circled around, they’re recounting
the time my Great Uncle Walter took them hunting.
It goes something like this:

They’re all up in the forests of Moose County, Maine. While they’re separated,
Walter trips over backwards, breaking both wrists trying to catch his own girth.
Once the other two find him, they help him into the car, and on their way home
Walter says he needs to use the bathroom.
The two simultaneously realize that with two broken wrists, the elder relative
would need some … assistance. So their solution was to fly at breakneck speeds
to the nearest hospital and let them take care of it. 100 miles an hour the whole
way, evading every cop in the process, risking their lives just to avoid wiping
their uncle’s rear-end.

We’ve all heard this one before, second-, third-
hand, passed down as family lore, but today,
we’re laughing harder than ever, filling this room
with the kinds of sounds it probably isn’t used to hearing.
And I’m looking around, thinking, how strange
it must be to run a funeral home. This space
is like a factory-made living room. The worn middles
of the chairs look too intentional. The colors
a little too coordinated. These people crafted this
foreign place to look like anyone’s home at any time,
and now, they listen to the sounds of strangers’
grief on repeat every day.

We are at my Great Uncle Walter’s wake.
My family is showing him how much we care
in our only way– a family of openness,
in arms and in mouths, a family never silent,
even when no one is talking,
a family getting together after the wake
for bonfire heat and cold beer fizz, a family
that is always somehow expanding,
and when we lose one, we just work
extra hard to fill their space with more warmth–
the morticians must be
shocked by this family’s boldness.

Or maybe I’m giving us too much credit.
Maybe laughter has stained the carpets
of this home far more than tears.
Maybe it’s a common defense mechanism,
to try our best to make joy out of pain.
Either way, when I die, I want everyone
to tell my most embarrassing stories,
laughing like a full stomach.
I was never taught
any other kind of love.

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