That the Soul May Wax Plump
"He who has reached the highest degree of
emptiness will be secure in repose."
—A Taoist saying
My dumpy little mother on the undertaker's slab had a mannequin's grace. From chin to foot the sheet outlined her, thin and tall. Her face uptilted, bloodless, smooth, had a long smile. Her head rested on a block under her nape, her neck was long, her hair waved, upswept. But later, at "the viewing," sunk in the casket in pink tulle, an expensive present that might spoil, dressed in Eden's green apron, organdy bonnet on, she shrank, grew short again, and yellow. Who put the gold-rimmed glasses on her shut face, who laid her left hand with the wedding ring on her stomach that really didn't seem to be there under the fake lace? Mother's work before she died was self-purification, a regimen of near starvation, to be worthy to go to Our Father, Whom she confused (or, more aptly, fused) with our father, in Heaven long since. She believed in evacuation, an often and fierce purgation, meant to teach the body to be hollow, that the soul may wax plump. At the moment of her death, the wind rushed out from all her pipes at once. Throat and rectum sang together, a galvanic spasm, hiss of ecstasy. Then, a flat collapse. Legs and arms flung wide, like that female Spanish saint slung by the ankles to a cross, her mouth stayed open in a dark O. So, her vigorous soul whizzed free. On the undertaker's slab, she lay youthful, cool, triumphant, with a long smile.
From New & Selected Things Taking Place by May Swenson and published by Atlantic Monthly Press. Copyright © 1978 by the Literary Estate of May Swenson. Reprinted by permission of the Literary Estate of May Swenson. All rights reserved.