BY: Jeffrey Lance
At the funeral there will be singing. There will be laughing cackling hard from the old ones yes but there will also be singing. Mothers and fathers and second cousins and is that their new baby and cows and rattlesnakes and metal chair legs will sing. You will lead the singing. You will lead like a swindled piper flutes children hop-skip through these pasture paths snarling mesquite. No like a pulpit banger sweats sinners mouth-breathing down the center aisle. You will need to choose carefully the hymns. You will need to choose carefully from Nothing but the Blood and Jesus Paid it All and Sweet Caroline and Killing in the Name and Ring of Fire. You will go to your printer and print out the lyrics on regular white paper. You will grab an X-acto knife and Elmer’s glue from the desk drawer. You will cut out the third verse from every song as is the only way and paste it to your forehead. When the time comes everyone will remember their favorite breakfast with the deceased. Everyone will hold hands and pop their ears. Everyone will weep at the appropriate moment like damn it they really felt it. This is when you smash your cheap acoustic guitar on the ground in front of the casket and yell TAKE HER TAKE HER I’VE SUNG IT ALL LORD.
Jeffrey Lance currently lives in Oxford, Mississippi. He is an MFA candidate at the University of Mississippi where he also serves as the Poetry Editor for Yalobusha Review.
Q: There is a chaos in this poem as it navigates the visceral memories of growing up in a strong religious community. What peaked my interest most was your choice to transition your list from traditional hymnals to easily recognized songs from pop-culture. Was music a disrupting influence for your outlook on life when growing up, and if so, how did/does it continue to influence your poetry?
A: Absolutely, I think music serves as both a grounding and fracturing source of power. Both clarifying and obscuring, but in all ways essential to me. It's really the thing I love most in the world and has always been a haven. But, growing up in this highly conservative Baptist environment caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me the older I got. So many things came into conflict as I developed a different sort of intellectual, artistic, moral, and even spiritual awareness. And, perhaps weirdly, music was frequently right at the center of all that chaos. I loved hymns, I loved praise and worship music. I was involved with various church music groups at nearly every point of my life. There came a point though when I felt ripped open across all of it, unsure of what versions of myself were being born or killed inside the songs. Then, when I sang at a family member's funeral, I was hit more than ever with that rupture. Life, death, and music all occupied the same space and I was simultaneously connected to that meeting and apart from it. Now, writing poetry, I find I consistently draw on that split between all my musical selves. I call on music to channel and unify as much as I use it to break and dismantle. It really all goes back to being sixteen in Texas listening to Death Cab for Cutie before playing guitar to Come Thou Fount on Sunday morning. And I wanted this poem to capture that explicitly.