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 pinstripe suit and eye sky blue tie
and silver crucifix in folded hands.

"What kind of heathen goes to church,"
he would say,
"with his head shaved like a punk rocker?
Or wrapped in a bloody bandage like a bum fighter?
Show some respect."

No worries.
The funeral director knows--didn't you?--that Polish immigrants--
display their dead whole
with only God and a blanket for protection,in the tradition of holy men.
He can locate, after several kindly inquiries,
in an ethnic working class neighborhood
of the next rust belt state,
a casket,
mid-priced, cool steel gray with cover whole and unbroken,
not split like a skull down the middle.
They can him lay facing the other way,
forcing the viewers to look right.
They can settle him with a sungold overspread
and forward him into the firmament like the Polish pope.