Joseph Stalin Was Right
Mike Schmitt

“One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic.”

A wake—mourning time, a chorus of cries seeped out of Hahn Funeral Home like smoke through an open window. I did not sing the requiem with the sad symphony, but smiled.

Cheap floral paper lined the inside of the coffin, within laid a clay figure, arms crossed on her chest as if she were cold and she was cold to the touch, but a tube did not hang underneath her nose with a machine pumping air into her decayed lungs. Beneath the brush strokes of blush, her skin was thin, vampire white.

Jefferson Barracks Cemetery was not over the river and through the woods. Marble graves lined up for miles in perfect symmetry from every visible angle and reminded me of the cigarette butts erect in the sand of the ashtray outside her house. As we drove through, the headstones baring dogmatic marks passed like dashed lines centered on a highway. For Christians the engraved cross next to Jews with the Star of David debating over whose God is greater, six feet deep and raising their own halo higher than the others without realizing they are creatures one in the same with a different name.

She didn’t always rest in such a lively place.

Tin House was a gravel road over the river and through the woods to a small home deep in the country. French doors led into an antique furniture museum that smelled of mothballs, baked goods and smoke.

The tube played classic Wrestle Manias, when Hulkamaniacs ruled the world. Shaving cream containers and straight razors garnished the bathroom walls and the hall was decorated with medals just like Grandpa after World War II.

In the basement, enough Nazi memorabilia hung from the walls to start a Fourth Reich, but the true treasure sat in the same chair at the kitchen table, Indian style, her feet never touching the floor. I wish my last memory of Grandma could be her cozy in a nightgown, hugging her knees close to her chest without a tube clinging to her nostrils. Instead, I picture the washcloth draped over her brow as she panted like a dog caught out in a Missouri summer. I leaned close and kissed her goodbye. At the funeral I smiled at the end of suffering, but the tragedy remains since no lessons were learned from her death as I smoked throughout this poem, absorbing the same smoke that rotted my grandmother’s lungs. I too will be an emphysema statistic.

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