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1989

Because AIDS was slaughtering people left and right,

I went to a lot of memorial services that year.

There were so many, I’d pencil them in between

a movie or a sale at Macy’s. The other thing that

made them tolerable was the funny stories people

got up and told about the deceased: the time he

hurled a mushroom frittata across a crowded room,

those green huaraches he refused to throw away,

the joke about the flight attendant and the banana

that cracked him up every time.

But this funeral was for a blind friend of my wife’s

who’d merely died. And the interesting thing

about it was the guide dogs; with all the harness

and the sniffing around, the vestibule of the church

looked like the starting line of the Iditarod. But

nobody got up to talk. We just sat there,

and the pastor read the King James version. Then he

said someday we would see Robert and he us.

Throughout the service, the dogs slumped beside their

masters. But when the soloist stood and launched

into a screechy rendition of “Abide with Me,” they sank

into the carpet. A few put their paws over their ears.

Someone whispered to one of the blind guys; he told

another, and the laughter started to spread. People

in the back looked around, startled and embarrassed,

until they spotted all those chunky Labradors

flattened out like animals in a cartoon about

steamrollers. Then they started, too.

That was more like it. That was what I was used to —

A roomful of people laughing and crying, taking off

Their sunglasses to blot their inconsolable eyes.

Ron Koertge is a young-adult fiction writer and American poet. “1989” appears in Koertge’s collection Geography of the Forehead, published by the University of Arkansas Press, and is reprinted by permission. Photo credit: Herb Rabbin

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Because AIDS was slaughtering people left and right,

I went to a lot of memorial services that year.

There were so many, I’d pencil them in between

a movie or a sale at Macy’s. The other thing that

made them tolerable was the funny stories people

got up and told about the deceased: the time he

hurled a mushroom frittata across a crowded room,

those green huaraches he refused to throw away,

the joke about the flight attendant and the banana

that cracked him up every time.

But this funeral was for a blind friend of my wife’s

who’d merely died. And the interesting thing

about it was the guide dogs; with all the harness

and the sniffing around, the vestibule of the church

looked like the starting line of the Iditarod. But

nobody got up to talk. We just sat there,

and the pastor read the King James version. Then he

said someday we would see Robert and he us.

Throughout the service, the dogs slumped beside their

masters. But when the soloist stood and launched

into a screechy rendition of “Abide with Me,” they sank

into the carpet. A few put their paws over their ears.

Someone whispered to one of the blind guys; he told

another, and the laughter started to spread. People

in the back looked around, startled and embarrassed,

until they spotted all those chunky Labradors

flattened out like animals in a cartoon about

steamrollers. Then they started, too.

That was more like it. That was what I was used to —

A roomful of people laughing and crying, taking off

Their sunglasses to blot their inconsolable eyes.

Ron Koertge is a young-adult fiction writer and American poet. “1989” appears in Koertge’s collection Geography of the Forehead, published by the University of Arkansas Press, and is reprinted by permission. Photo credit: Herb Rabbin

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