Home > Poetry > Death Display
Published: Wed Oct 15 1975
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
AGNI 4 Family Politics Journeys
Death Display

The Polish consulate has chosen my grandmother’s body to help demonstrate the impact of Polish funeral music—I am indignant when I read of it in the papers. I visit the display, and take my turn after a man who departs in tears. As I walk to the front it seems her head is tilted, and I think I see her scratch. Rushing closer, I find her eyes are open: when I ask she admits she is not dead. In great excitement I pick her up and smuggle her home. There, to her attentive grandchildren, she explains the rigors of hoarding food and keeping a straight face, so that people could become unhappy and understand death. But the secret is too good to keep; before long the news is out that she is alive, and there are mixed reactions. At first the public is happy, and the hospital even donates her old bed, but slowly complaints come in, irate taxpayers who feel they have been cheated. Soon after this, however, she ceases to be the center of attention of even the dream.

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Howard Schwartz was the winner of the 2005 National Jewish Book Award for Tree of Souls: The Mythology of Judaism, reissued with annotations in 2007 by Oxford University Press. He teaches English at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. (updated 7/2010)

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