Viewing Dad

by Angie Johnson

When your Polish Catholic dad dies
three days after polka dancing into the New Year
two days after chopping wood on a bracing New Year's Day
one day after stuttering an inquiry into who won the Rose Bowl,
You learn things you never knew you never knew.

The caskets with the split covers
that show the top half and hide the bottom half
only come one way--
that is to say,
with the person's head (as the viewer stands) on the left.
If your dad had two brain surgeries on the right side of his head,
his hair shaved for two thick black incisions,
skull split in a failed fix-up,
the bandages will not match the pressed pinstripes and sky blue tie and silver crucifix in folded hands.

"What kind of heathen goes to church,"
he would say,
"with his head shaved on one side?
Or wrapped in a bloody bandage?
Show some respect."

No worries.
The funeral director can magically lift silver locks from where you can’t see and affix them to where you can.
Because Polish immigrants—didn’t you know?—
display their dead whole with only God and a blanket for protection.
He can locate, in an ethnic working class neighborhood of the next rust belt state,
a casket—mid-priced, cool steel gray with lid in one piece,
not split
like a skull
down the middle.
They can lay him the other way, forcing the viewers to look right.
They can cover his feet with a bourbon gold blanket,
and forward him into the firmament like the Polish pope.