He Always Insisted I 'Smile, face lette'*

A Eulogy

Robert Timothy Côté
May 4, 1949--November 29, 1990

By Rhea Côté Robbins

I went to see you
 In Place.
"They'd already done it." 
 the funeral director
when I inquired after
   your grave
had you been laid
   in it?

I went yesterday
  when the ground
   was still bare
  uncovered by snow
 I looked for a mound
  of fresh flowers
 when no one answered my
  on the St. Francis Cemetery 
   office door.

I drove slow.  Looking.
 Charlie had told me
  where you'd be.
Ray had already been to see you.
"I'll find him," I said.
to know where you'd be.

I see the flowers heaped high on
 two other graves
  close by.
I pray.  I am timid.
I lock my truck.
 I approach the mound
 contemplating the other
  two freshly dug graves
 their dirt
  under canvas protection
 waiting occupancy.

I've come to know
 where you'd be
 to gather flowers
  in memory
to pluck a bit of life
 from you yet.
I am not sure
 if this place of death
   is yours.

I approach warily
 thinking I'd come upon
 someone's else's
I am shocked.
   Taken Aback.
There are envelopes
 with your name
  on every one.
with each bouquet
 sentiment of flower
I see your name in death.
I tear at an envelope
 to take as proof of life.
I pull my hand back
 horrified by my
  greed of you.
I pluck a ribbon
 scanning its word
gaining a clue
 on who you are
  or were to them.
These are from aunt Rhea.
I snatch at the ribbon.
Wildly. Madly.  I circle
 the mound
 flowers protecting
  you from bareness of being
Us, from the view of 
 stark earth
 freshly wounded.

We can still perfume 
   the world of our loneliness
 with the living thoughts
   of you.
  I circle.
   I circle.
    I circle
  the mound.
  I chant a sound
 all alone
  I breathe quick, piercing
   cold air.

I am circling you.
 Choosing my final
 of flowers.  You said you 
         hated flowers.
Too much weeding in mémèreís flower gardens
I ask myself--
 What do these flowers have
   to do with you.
Did we ever send you flowers when
    you lived?
Recently, your wife told me
   you gave her roses
 this side of the grave.

A car drives up
   it is a cousin of ours
 I am fearful of plucking
   a flower or two
   in full view.
  I want to take of your
  Without being thought of
     as bad.
I want to think you do not mind
  my taking a flower or two
 from you.
I fear their misunderstanding of my grief
 how I must feed my final memory.
Or someone will say
    I robbed your grave.
What right do I have to ask of you
  another piece of life?

The car circles.
   he gets out
     Looks at me.
 I wave small
  He turns his back
   I think he waits for me to 
To mourn, my brother as I do.

I hastily draw
   two carnations
   one sprig of eucalyptus
   three shafts of wheat.
The Bread of Life I repeat
Reading.   Brother-In-Law
Eleventh hour.  Robert Cote.  Absent.
 Intonating male deep voices
  resonate in my mind's ear.
Husband. Daddy. Son-In-Law.

Another car drives in
  I worry it is an aunt of his wife.
 How will I explain my need of a few 
   of his flowers.
 How can I justify my stealing from the
 Like the time I neglected 
   to buy two more Catholic masses
(Procrastination personified
 I carried the money in my purse for a year.) 
   five dollars apiece
 for my mother when my children 
   needed milk.
I could not bear the thought of buying 
 for my mother.

  I barely believe
    in praying for the dead.

 Sixty-two masses for one woman already to be 
 said  plus two more.
 I heard my mother 
  Take the money, Rhea
   I don't need anymore
where I am.
  Get something for the kids.
So I took the money meant for masses 
  given me by my aunt and her children
  my mother's sister
  and I bought milk and food 
    for my children.

I am cold.  The wind blows.
 The sun so warm while
   driving here
   has gone away.
The car passes slowly
  marking my quality of the living
  among the dead.
She may be someone's aunt
  but not one who will bother me
 in my private visit.
 She is a stranger to me.

I strike upon the thought
  my mother and father
 are nearby.
 Our parents.
I need to tell them 
   he's dead.
 I will be brief
   but I need to stand on their
 lands of dying
to feel if it is all right with them.
 I need to physically
  tie their being
 with his again.
  I need to announce their right
   as parents who would mourn
  the death of their son.
 I need to publically proclaim
  their personal pain
  at the loss of their son.

From where I stand, to the left
   I look for my father's
    lonesome pine.
 He always said he would
   be laid out
 underneath the lonesome pine.
 My father recognized loneliness.
   He was akin.  brave.  true.
lonely.  oneliness.  alone.  at his ease in painful loneliness.  alone.

Frustrated I scan the grounds
 play grounds of my youth
and my youthful companion beneath
 my feet.
I curse the landscape
for hiding the tree from me
 I scan right
It is big enough I tell myself
 I should be able to see it.

I spot it and I draw my breath.

  So close
   I am shocked.
I feel my spirit seeping, leaking
  into the ground
   I stand here now
 with you but I'll be right
I'm going to see maman and dad.

From where I stand 
   as I walk closer
to the lonesome pine
  I see a round white spot
  on its trunk.
Why is the white spot there, I wonder,
 I never saw that before.

I will speak to my cousin
  I will walk that way
 I approach him
an older man with glazed eyes now
Do you remember me
 I saw you at the funeral home
 Rita?  No I'm Rhea.
 I'm here to see my brother
It's hard isn't it he asks
 I'm here to see my wife
     he inwardly cries.

I have stepped into his private moment
   the one I did not want
    broken for me.
 I'm going to see my mother and father
    I say
  Is that your truck
    you had better take it
    or you will be walking 
    a mile
    Aren't you cold
     with just that 
      sweater on?  he asks
So Lorette is 
   I read her 
  Loretta Cote.
She would remember me better.
He was always a busy man.
  He gets in his car
   drives away.

Flowers in hand
   I walk
      a walk
  I remember then
 how we would always walk
Bob and I
      as children
    among the dead.
 Everyday we would come here
    to play as friends
    with each other
     and the dead.
We walked our cemetery walk
   dragging sticks
  as we went along
   sitting on our
    (long-dead) pépère's 
   telling brags
    beating our chests
   climbing trees
    head stones
   steering clear of the
    freshly dead.
  A hand could reach up
    to grab you.
  Or we would communicate
    by poking long sticks
  deep in the freshly disturbed earth
 tapping messages, code or song
  on coffins
   hoping to get an answer back.
We would play tricks 
    on our friends
     cemetery men
    funeral processions
We were merciless on the Protestants
    as all good, french, Catholic children
 were taught to do
   we believed.
We waged Child warfare
   on the Protestant dead
 singing and dancing on their
   brave dead
  Civil War hero, Asa Redington
We wiggled our butts at their
   or stuck out our tongues.
We would read their names
   laughing, hooting
   at the funny sounds.
Rhyming nonsense insults
 shaking our fists at
  the dead
running, jumping, hide 'n seek
  ghost stories
  tall tales
  riding bikes sometimes racing 
   down cemetery roads
Jumping the fence to the Catholic/Papal side
 we would drink water from the faucets
 on the family plots
from the flower dump we would re-rob flowers 
 removed from the graves
 by the workers
 wrapping them in ribbons marked "Mother"
Plucking petals proclaiming he/she loves me
Collecting floral tubes 
  as missiles
  or long fingernails.
We would sit in
  wrought iron chairs
 relatives left behind
  for us, we thought
 while we visited
  with their dead
  and conversed.
Couples courted.
Thieves hid
We spied.  On all of them
 the living 
  and the dead
from the special eyes of children
After awhile it was difficult
  to tell
 who was invisible.

I remembered all of this as I walked
  toward my parentsí grave.
my maman saying
to those who asked "how could we live by a cemetery?"
 "It's not the dead that bother you, it's the living"

I wonder what has happened to the
Walking my cemetery walk
 memory by my side
the closer I get
  the sooner I realize
  some kind of anger
 has been here.
  The tree has lost a limb
the "white" I saw 
 was a gash.

 Violent brokeness.
  spirit unrest.
 Private hurricane
  grief blew and down came 
 a limb.
 Frozen agony.
 Recent, too.
  At my feet are its branches
   still green,
    scent giving
  carpeting the ground
   tears wept
  deeply.  destruction upon
blown to bits.  Crumbled
 Silent.  And gone.
Spent anger and grief.

 My mind reels from shock.

I walk to the tree
 examining its sacrifice
I look all around
 inwardly weeping
its private loss and ugliness
  bleeding its compassion
 expressing what my parents
  cannot say.

 The tree speaks
 Anguish at the loss of 
   one so young
    so kind
    so deeply wounded
    so felt.
The ground rocks and shakes
  with the tree's lamentations.

I never expected nature to react so.

The tree has lost a friend
  The tree knows how his heart ached
  and wept.
 Defying death.
 Begging time to live
   to be able to draw
    one more breath.
  Crying silent tears
   on his life
     and dad
   Cursing the day he was born
   lying on the ground
    as a child
   defining clouds
   leaving roses
    as tokens of love.
 Private audiences
   or bringing daughters
    to view the dead.
  The tree knows all this.
   the tree rents its anger
    inability to move
    to hold in its arms
 to craddle the boy/son/man
   taking life from those 
 laid at its feet
   it screamed its
a high wind echoed back
 breaking the limb.
The Tree of Life bled.

I layed a branch 
  of eucalyptus
 between them both
  healing oils/balm for pain
I gathered some 
 from their grief
  and carried them to him
 which I laid
   close to his heart.
The ground shuddered 
  with joy
 at the joining.

Carrying away flowers
 I took my leave of him
  marking the trees nearby keep sentinel of him
  circling again
feeling strange for so doing
  thinking I could
   somehow raise
 him from the dead
  whirling round and round
 creating a vortex
  to release him from
  the ground
 so we could 
  play as we
 once did.

Robert T. Côté and his Ford Truck

*lette/laid, "homily" face as an endearment...

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