Formalin and cartilage

I could never touch his waxy face,
sunken, yet familiar. Painted
and preserved with formalin,
his blood exchanged with chemicals.
His nose and ears seemed larger than in life
since cartilage will never shrink like flesh.

I held you, mother when you bended down
and kissed him — you caressed his cheek.
I had never seen such tenderness
between the two of you before.
You said goodbye and then I realized
that as the only son: it will be me –
and I will fail you now like he.

He always said that,”afterwards it is too late,
forgiveness might be said
but not received by silent graves”.
That’s why the church was empty
and his chipboard coffin cheap.
Flowers was a waste for funerals,
and there were few that were allowed
to say goodbye;
it was his — only — wish.
His rage had waned into the night.

Afterwards — we sat and talked.
and realized that loneliness is different,
when even phone-lines have gone dead.
I know the things that went unsaid,
but still I think it was the day,
that day I finally became a man.


At Toads today Corey tells us how he was affected by his daughter’s wedding and asks us to tell of similar events. My father died almost 20 years ago, but I still recall his funeral very vividly. My father was not always treated fairly and he was not always to live with, because of all his anger. He is the only dead person I ever seen, and it was actually very difficult to live by his wishes to wave convention and go with a very simple funeral. But there are different ways to show respect.

November 28, 2014

14 responses to “Formalin and cartilage

  1. ”afterwards it is too late,
    forgiveness might be said
    but not received by silent graves”

    This must have been a difficult but cathartic poem to write, Bjorn. While we share similar experiences of loss, it remains an individual occasion, and is never easy. There is something so indefinably absolute about the death of a parent, which you have captured in these lines.

  2. Wow, that’s heavy and oh so good. Both the poem and the description. I have had similar feelings in death as well. Powerful stuff, thanks for writing for the prompt!!!!!

  3. Bjorn, I love how human and real and personal this poem is. Thanks for sharing this experience. It will inform my reading of your other work, to have read this one. Bravo.

  4. this poem is so perfect, so beautiful in its truth, honesty, and details. thank you so much for sharing it. i hope you can access this place again and write from there.

  5. You’ve captured this moment so vividly, and emotively Bjorn…bringing us into the layers of what this passing away meant for you in a balanced graceful way. Nicely gathered…thank you for sharing with us.

  6. Bjorn, I could tell how personal this was for you. You’ve expressed the grief you felt clearly. It’s always good there’s a closing of some type though.You can be sure you followed your father’s wishes to the best of your ability. — Suzanne

  7. “Hurt people hurt people”…i sense that in your memory but even though there were no flowers, hopefully there is forgiveness. God bless you.

  8. there have been several funerals in my life that made a lasting impact on me…some more than others….and the feelings are such a swirl based on the past history….and in the end, with them gone, hopefully we can forgive them…and forgive ourselves…..

  9. Parents (and grandparents, to an extent) do and say things, I have noticed, up to and including the hour of their death (or the death of their partner) that are so open to interpretation and loaded with memories and meanings, I have often been left in a total state of confusion (that lingers still). For that period can be so discordant with the rest of their life (that one knows about) and yet so oddly congruous for the rite of their passage. Each time, I have been left feeling dazed and hollowed out – and yet, ready and wanting to be replenished, anew – keen to go forward as an adult, now that I am not their child. For me, I felt your words very personally.

  10. The waxy face one looks at, familiar from life, but changed by death, since ‘cartilage will never shrink like flesh’—wow, you have captured those emotion-laden moments so well. There is nothing that can prepare us for what that moment will feel like…gazing at that familiar, yet strange, face for the very last time. Very moving write, Bjorn.

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