Tom Riley


My cousin’s husband died in January
But the cemetery doesn’t bury in winter
So in April, I was driving there
When he was walking along the road
Looking the same as he ever did
Red plastic stirrer in his mouth
Pink rifle strap on his shoulder
Getting in, he asked, “Where ya going?”
“To your burial.”
“Oh yeah, me too.”

I wanted to ask how it was, being dead
Was it better than fighting in Viet Nam?
Better than refighting the war in his head?
Better than fighting the Agent Orange
Cancer which finally took all? But I didn’t
Know how, so we talked hunting instead

Parked as the soldiers fired their guns
I was late.
“Hey, avoid that cancer thing.”
I turned to reply but he was gone
Paused at the gate as the bugler tapped
“All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh.”
Put my hand on his casket.  “Goodbye.”


Tom Riley is a retiree living on 12 acres in Pittstown. There he gardens, keeps bees, makes maple syrup, and grows hops. He also writes poetry there when the words won’t leave him alone.

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