testament (wendell berry)

1.
Dear relatives and friends, when my last breath
Grows large and free in air, don’t call it death –
A word to enrich the undertaker and inspire 
His surly art of imitating life; conspire
Against him.  

Say that my body cannot now
Be improved upon; it has no fault to show
To the sly cosmetician.  Say that my flesh
Has a perfection in compliance with the grass
Truer than any it could have striven for.
You will recognize the earth in me, as before
I wished to know it in myself: my earth
That has been my care and faithful charge from birth,
And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,
And all my hopes.  Say that I have found
A good solution, and am on my way 
To the roots.  And say I have left my native clay
At last, to be a traveler; that too will be so.
Traveler to where?  Say you don’t know.

2.
But do not let your ignorance 
Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay 
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say

Anything too final.  Whatever 
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh.  Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure

Your hope.  That will be generous 
To me and to yourselves.  Why settle
For some know-it-all’s despair
When the dead may dance to the fiddle

Hereafter, for all anybody knows?
And remember that the Heavenly soil
Need not be too rich to please 
One who was happy in Port Royal.

I may be already heading back,
A new and better man, toward
That town.  The thought’s unreasonable,
But so is life, thank the Lord!

3.
So treat me, even dead,
As a man who has a place
To go, and something to do.
Don’t muck up my face

With wax and powder and rouge
As one would prettify
An unalterable fact
To give bitterness the lie.

Admit the native earth
My body is and will be,
Admit its freedom and 
Its changeability.

Dress me in the clothes 
I wore in the day’s round.
Lay me in a wooden box,
Put the box in the ground.

4.
Beneath this stone a Berry is planted
In his home land, as he wanted.

. . .

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