All Sales Are Final
by Ralph James Savarese

       For Steve Kuusisto

I once bought a casket
on discount
at the funeral home 
across the street.
I was living in 
Northern Florida then—
in Gainesville,
land of “The Swamp”
(as the football 

stadium is called)
and serial-killer 
kitsch. No
less a ghoul
than Ted Bundy
was relieved of 
his essential fluids 
at this dark 
transit station.

The neighborhood,
if you could call
it that, was like
an American poem: 
it had everything 
in it. Who
needs zoning
laws or city

The house 
to the east  
backed up on 
the crematorium;
ours looked out
on a dry cleaner.
Each sent up
into the sky:

a freshly starched
shirt for Gramps
who had a critical
interview ahead,
the contents 
of one smokestack
forever dressing 
the contents
of the other.

The casket
was your standard 
mahogany sort 
of thing,
except it had a flat 
top and it seemed 
especially sturdy, 
like the head
of a marine.

It was as if tanks
might go
roller skating on it.
The polyurethane finish 
as pellucid as glass:
a little biosphere.
It made me 
think of poor,
prostrate Lenin.

(I’d just completed
a year of teaching 
in Eastern Europe.)
My plan was 
to use the casket
as a coffee table.
I’d be the poet
of death
and raucous parties,

like Emmeline 
in Huck Finn,
a quill in one hand,
a rifle in the other—
though with mocking
My poems 
would be bad

in a good sort
of way,
the gesture redeemed
by that preservative,
that chemical balm,
we call irony.
On Halloween
I’d climb out
of the casket

like Lazarus,
unwrap myself
like cheese,
and then make myself
a drink, a stiff—
get it?—martini.
I was fond 
of parties 
back then.

the crematorium
bell rang,
I ushered my guests
out onto
the front porch,
knowing that a hearse
would soon 

“They’re firing
up the barbecue!”
I shouted.
As if at a bank,
we watched
the direct deposit. 
Straight to the flames
for whoever had

Do not pass go.
Do not pass god.
And pretty soon
we’d elected 
our own pope,
pulled a rabbit
out of 
a Birkenau 
top hat.

the crematorium
sending Gramps,
like a rocket,
into the neighborhood
(and causing 
to miss his

The EPA showed up
with hoses.
Who knew that it
could snow 
in June?
The ash like
so many doves
in the trees....

My wife declined
the casket.
She put her
whole body down.
“It’s either me
or that velvet 
The salesman,
when I showed up,
hemmed and 
“It isn’t
a reusable item.
It’s like
a toothbrush.”
“Ah, yes,” I quipped.
“The bleeding 
gums of sin.

The yawing
mouth-hole of 
(I practiced poetry
the policy seemed
a comment on
life itself.

The man, however,
wasn’t immune
to some enticement.
I couldn’t leave
the casket
on the curb,
so I paid him
a second time
to haul it away.

“We’ll use it,” he 
as “funereal scrap.” 
It was like 
donating your car
to public radio.
A friend called
me Queequeg
for having dispensed

with a coffin
I now deemed
I was a cat,
he joked,
with two lives.
What did the quark
say to 
the comedian? 

The universe
is no laughing
I’ve lived too long
on the thin gruel
of cleverness.
I’m older now
and plainly 

The funeral homes
in New York
look like
the American
in Hanoi: 
the dead trying
to get out.

The human body
is nothing
more than
a basement
and the virus,
a six-month
The last summer
I lived

in that house,
a marine 
drowned while diving
in an underwater 
remember watching
from the porch
the mourners gather.
At the end

of the service,
the cars left
like leaves,
falling somehow 
until only one
A fellow marine
walked out

to the parking lot,
got down on
his knees
and screamed,
pounding his fists
against the pavement.
I could tell that
he had
bloodied them.

He then got up,
brushed himself off
and drove away.
The deceased,
to the paper,
knew that cave
like the back
of his lungs.

Ralph Savarese is the author of two books of prose, Reasonable People and See It Feelingly, and one collection of poetry, Republican Fathers. His creative work has appeared, among other places, in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, Seneca Review and Southwest Review.

Copyright © Mudlark 2020
Mudlark Flashes | Home Page