Poem by Jake Keim: “Swan Song”

Swan Song

As the casket is lowered down, silence
remains except for crunching gravel under feet.
Conversation starts amongst the mourners.
I walk, unknown, to them like a ghost.
I only know my grandmother here.
She’s composed, unlike many around her.
I tell her I’ll pull up the car,
and she nods, staggering to stand and beginning
to say her farewells with
fits of phlegm filled coughs.
Just like my grandfather.

Long lines of cars and vans and trucks
seem to occupy every inch of paved road,
neatly lined up like the tombstones in the grass.
The summer sun is merciless.
But my sweating would’ve been
a blessing to the elderly,
they can’t last in it like they used to.
They heave and cough and stumble,
trying to get back into their vehicles
to end their suffering.

I can’t help but think who will be next in the casket
and how many people will be left
to attend their funeral and how the cycle
will infinitely continue on
and on
and on.

I reach my grandmother’s van next to a pond
and wonder how she managed
to walk so far
with her failing body.
I stare out across the water and see
white amongst the reeds.

A lone swan emerges gracefully, gliding across the otherwise still pond.
It stumbles awkwardly onto land
where we make eye contact.
It doesn’t make a harsh or crude honk
or screech or whatever noise they make.

Instead, it lets out a single, long
pure note.
Before the anything can set in,
the swan collapses
and doesn’t move again.
I hesitantly start the car, constantly
looking to see if the bird has moved
or any indication that it was still alive.
I pull away with nothing,
passing more aging faces.
I notice their deep wrinkles,
how worried they look, and
how their grown children watch them
with what can only be pity.

I help my grandmother get in.
Another sudden coughing fit,
more violent than any before.
Concerned, I ask if she is ok
and she gives a silent nod, spits into
her kleenex. She stares out at the cemetery
until it is out of sight.
I can’t get the swan out of my head.
My grandmother eventually falls asleep,
snoring loud enough to put any man to shame.

Pulling into her driveway, she looks almost
peaceful. Before helping her out I still can
only think about the swan.
I stare at my grandmother, wondering what she
will do during her final moments of life
and if I will be there to bear witness.
Even though I am young now, I start to wonder
what my time as an elderly man will hold for me
and if there’ll be anyone to hear my song.

Jake Keim is an honors student majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing at the College of Charleston. He’s a mean piece of trash (courtesy of his friend Amy) from Murderburg Spartanburg, South Carolina. He enjoys hats (from simple to exotic), various forms of tea, luxurious facial hair, hair dye, reading/writing (why else would he be here), music from folky acoustic to hardcore death metal, and having a good time.