The Right Madness on Skye

Now I’m dead, load what’s left on the wagon
and have the oxen move on. Tell absentee landlord driver,
Harry of Nothingham, slow. I want my last minutes on earth
filled with this island. For a long time
my days were nothing. My remarkable late surge
I attribute to fanciful chefs: cloud in the salad.
My dramatic reversal of fate insists on this will
read aloud in this poem this day of my death.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
Take my body to Kilmuir cemetery and adorn
according to instructions. Don’t forget the mint.
Carve any lines you want on my stone. If mine
double-check spelling. I’m dumb. And triple-check
high birds. Bring them down and make them state their names.
If none says ‘Rhododendron’ you know they’re fakes.
Throw them out. Give the piper and drum five minutes
and explain to them, dead, I tire fast.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
Alive, I often wounded my knee begging response.
My turn to put out. I will one eye to the blind of Dunvegan.
I will one ear to deaf salmon climbing the Conon.
And to the mule ocean I leave this haphazard tongue.
You might note on my stone in small letters:
Here lies one who believed all others his betters.
I didn’t really, but what a fun thing to say.
And it’s fun to be dead with one eye open in case
that stuck-up twitch in Arizona mourns my loss.
Toot, toot, lovers. Now that I’m moving ahead
you eagerly line the roadside to cheer these remains.
Some say, first, get rid of the body. Not me.
I say let the corpse dance. Make the living lie still.
I told you before, five minutes for piper and drum.
I leave vivid instructions and no one, no one listens.
Let’s try it once more. I’m dead. I want to milk that w’ild
for all it’s worth to the crowd already turning away.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
By now you’re no doubt saying, “We’ve got you to rights.
You can’t write a poem from the grave.”
Remember, I’m not buried. Only cold on the slab.
There’s a hell of a difference between being stiff
from rigor mortis and being held rigid by peat.
Harry of Nothingham knows. Don’t you, Harry old chap?
And oxen aren’t as dumb as you think. Just because
I’ve no religion don’t say heaven can’t welcome me back
under the new majority quota now in effect.
Don’t back up for cars. Clear the road for the dead.
Cry ‘Fat bag of bones coming through.’ I hear that note.
I told you, no trumpets. I told you, five minutes, no more
for piper and drum. Who’s mouthing that organ for nothing?
Who’s humming along and stamping the right time?
That’s the wrong madness for Skye, I say. Wrong
for dispossessed crofters who didn’t want me to die
and wrong for comedians waiting for final returns.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
It’s a long road that has no break in the blacktop.
It’s a crock to say it. Are they really preparing a speech?
He was this, he was that, lies about me over
the open dirt? If so, have the oxen reverse.
Bring Harry of Nothingham back. I was rotten
in Denmark long before something caught the boat,
and I’m still non grata in Venice. Every time I level
the piper and drum drown me out.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
If I’m allowed to digress this way, take me on tour.
What the hell. The hole that’s waiting can wait.
I want a last look at Seattle and the way light
subtracts and adds miles to the journey.
And I want to ride again the road on the upper Rha.
If you’ve got a map you think I’m skipping about.
Listen. All places are near and far selves neighbors.
That wouldn’t set well with scholars. Don’t tell Harry.
Bury my wounded knee at Flodigarry.
Are we on course again? Good. Isle of Skye, right?
This the day of my death. Only feigned tears, like I ordered.
Make sure the flowers are plastic. Five minutes, remember,
piper and drum. Tell the nearly no mourners remaining
I was easy to mix up with weather. The weather
goes on. Me too, but right now in a deadly stiff line.
Tell the laird who tricked me into being a crofter
I never worked hard in my life except on a poem.
Have the oxen move on. Tell Harry of Nothingham, slow.
Tell Harry of Nothingham stop and have the oxen relax.
I want off at the crossroads. That’s far as I go.
I was holding my breath all the time. Didn’t I fool you?
Come on, admit it—that blue tone I faked on my skin—
these eyes I kept closed tight in this poem.
Here’s the right madness on Skye. Take five days
for piper and drum and tell the oxen, start dancing.
Mail Harry of Nothingham home to his nothing.
Take my word. It’s been fun.