To Purgatory

We kiss the person we love last thing before

the coffin is shut 

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      —Jack Gilbert

 

You lean across the coffin’s gunwale to kiss

your father before the rower launches into 

that long, last voyage to purgatory, while we, 

survivors, walk and drive onto streets of dailyness, 

having forgotten that around some corner 

we encounter angels disguised as lilies breathing 

light and color enough to lift this meager yard 

of earth above itself, and the eyes well-up 

with knowing the sad joy of temporal beauty, 

of belief that beneath the skin a soul longs 

for release from the body’s salt into permanence, 

and once more I watch the rosy flesh of your lips 

lightly, as if something could break, brush-touch 

the blue underflesh of your father’s bloodless

mouth, and then I envision us years hence as I rest

in my coffin and your drawn face inches closer, 

closer, lips quivering, this final physicality fading, fading.

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Bruce Snowden
3 years 1 month ago
Hi Gary, If I understand your poem rightly, Purgatory is not a happy place. Respectfully, let me offer my take on how I hope Purgatory truly is, taken from an earlier posting of mine in AMERICA. Now, I’m no theologian, just one given to speculation, so allow me to speculate a little on the nature of Purgatory as I see it. Purgatory is simply a realty in completion of “growing in love” for those of us who didn’t manage to complete that fundamental Gospel prerequisite on earth. I suggest it’s an opportunity to “finish the job” begun in Baptism swiftly accomplished with varying degrees of intensity, depending on how much love needs to be acquired. Souls in Purgatory without delay “finish the course.” Praying for souls in Purgatory is a “holy and wholesome thought” because it helps the souls in need to acquire the alacrity needed to “grow in love” rapidly. Prayer fans the hyperbolic “flames of Purgatory” not to increase the heat, but to increase the light! At least so it seems to me. Purgatory is an experience in love and the souls are really already saints “on the way” in a hurry and I suggest they may become icons of prayer for the Church on earth. The only pains in Purgatory are the pains of lovers longing for their Beloved, God. Holy Souls of God pray for us!
Gary Metras
3 years 1 month ago
Hi Bruce, I believe my poem is neutral in its depiction of Purgatory. I supply no details of it. Your description of "flames" and "light" are not seen in my poem. I intentionally leave out such details because how can we on earth know what is God's design for purgatory. I do, however, give descriptives for earth: "streets of dailyness," "this meager yard," "the sad joy of temporal beauty," "blue under flesh," "bloodless/mouth," "drawn face," which, combined with the positives ("lilies breathing/light and color" and "rosy flesh"), are meant to convey the sadness of funeral wakes...a father, a husband...and not the concept of joy in contemplating the afterlife, other than "a soul longs/for release..." Thank you for taking the time to comment on my poem and sharing your views.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 1 month ago
Hi Gary, Thanks for the explanation. Your explanation helped me to understand better your insights. Good job!

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