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poetry Weighing In

Entering the year’s end, Georgia poet Alice Friman suggests how much, how little, time carries as life goes on.

Weighing In

                 What makes these corpses so damn heavy?


By Alice Friman

Even the great Russian 

wondered what makes dead bodies

so leaden it takes six musclemen

to heft one box. You'd think

life having left would make flesh

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less dense, the way a November leaf 

floats, skips and scrapes along a cracked

sidewalk, weightless without its juice.


Of course there's the custom

of adding weight. A coin placed

on the dead one's tongue for fare 

across the Acheron or two gold

pieces on eyelids to ensure sight

in the underworld. Consider Tut,

the boy king, whose tomb groaned

with groceries, games, a golden

hippopotamus, and a favorite chair,

plus four Canopic jars holding

the royal innards. Now, that's heavy.


Not taking chances and wanting

him prepared, I pressed a coin

in my father's hand for carfare.

It must have been a 1935 nickel,

a Buffalo nickel, making his box

so heavy. A hoof-kicking, two-ton

heave and shudder bellowing against

the sides, there where I laid my head

to say good-bye before the workmen

engaged the winches and lowered

him, inch by swaying inch, down. 


Mother came equipped with her

own added weight. At the moment

of death, she clenched her teeth,

locked her jaws, and sucked in hard.

No last words, no rattle. Just that

hissing intake of breath, never

to be released. What was it

she dared to grab from the air

like a starving person a crust

to keep forever? What spring?

What blackberry summer?

All I know is, in her high hour,

she yanked the umbilical chain

and took a piece of me with her.

Alice Friman’s seventh collection is Blood Weather, LSU Press, 2019. Her last two

are The View from Saturn and Vinculum also from LSU which won the Georgia

author of the year in poetry. A recipient of two Pushcart Prizes and included in Best

American Poetry, she’s won many prizes and has been been published in Poetry,

Ploughshares, Plume, Georgia Review, Gettysburg Review, Crazyhorse, Poetry East,

Massachusetts Review, and many others. Her website is