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This is the village where the funeral
Stilted its dusty march over deep ruts
Up the hillside covered with queen’s lace
To the patch of weeds known finally to all.
Of her virtues large tongues were loud
As I, a stranger, trudged the streets
Gay with huckstering: loud whispers from a few
Sly wags who squeezed a humor from the shroud.
For this was death.
I should never see these men again
And yet, like the swiftness of remembered evil—
An issue for conscience, say—
The cold heart of death was beating in my brain:
A new figuration of an old phenomenon.
This is the village where women walk the streets
Selling eggs, breasts ungathered, hands like rawhide;
Of their virtues the symbol can be washtubs
But when they die it is a time of singing,
And then the symbol changes with change of place.
Let the wags wag as the pall-bearers climb the hill.
Let a new slab look off into the sunset:
The night drops down with sullen grace.

© Allen Tate