Nesbit Likes: The Funeral by Gordon Parks


Revisiting a place of childhood, you might find things are different. Of course, the council might have moved that shopping mall, the botanists might no longer grow their gardens. But in some cases, the places where we grew up remain the same, and it’s only our returning perception that has changed.

Gordon Parks paints this perfectly, how our perceptions of the world seem smaller when we return. In The Funeral, he tells us that in the eyes of a child, things lend themselves to bigger proportions, inflated by imaginations. Hills are great mountains. Gentle streams are raging rivers. But what doesn’t change is how we view our loved ones, not in age, not in death.

At the climax of this piece, where the poem delivers the punch, the narrator describes the immense weight his father exerts, reflecting both the high influence of the man, his perception of his father, and the incredible gravity of his death that comes with it. This, and his childhood, are cleverly compressed into poetry, portraying potent images and comparisons that detail our developments growing up. It’s brilliantly done, telling a years-spanning story in a reminiscent voice with language that will be sure to linger.

There’s a large story to his father, one that could take years to tell, and we know this simply by how Parks saw him: a giant.

The Funeral

After many snows I was home again.
Time had withered down to mere hills
The great mountains of my childhood.
Raging rivers I once swam trickled now like gentle streams.
And the wide road curving on to China or Kansas City or perhaps Calcutta
Had withered to a crooked path of dust
Ending abruptly at the county burying ground.
Only the giant who was my father remained the same.
A hundred strong men strained beneath his coffin
When they bore him to his grave.


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