One of my favorite poems:a dissection and a discussion
Call the roller of big cigars, The muscular one, and bid him whip In kitchen cups concupiscent curds. Let the wenches dawdle in such dress As they are used to wear, and let the boys Bring flowers in last month's newspapers. Let be be finale of seem. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream. Take from the dresser of deal, Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet On which she embroidered fantails once And spread it so as to cover her face. If her horny feet protrude, they come To show how cold she is, and dumb. Let the lamp affix its beam. The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
My take on this poem is that obviously it is about death…but I believe it is saying that death is normal, even homely, and not time for some big show. “Let be be finale of seem” Let the things that are, the simple facts, at the end, conquer the illusion, the story that people tell themselves about each other. Let what is be the end of what it seemed to be. Do normal things, homely things, respectful things…remember the person, and that she had a life, not just a death. Remember also that the body is only a shell, and don’t be afraid to look at it, don’t keep it in the dark and shiver. I love this poem, both for its meaning to me and for its wonderful imagery…I can see every scene, every word, as if in a movie. I can see the kitchen, full of mourning women in their everyday dresses, standing and whispering about the dead one. I can smell the flowers, wrapped in wet newspaper, fresh from someones garden or yard or bush. I can see the big strong man, uncomfortable in the tiny kitchen, but nonetheless making his contribution to the event. I can see other women, filling the tiny bedroom, straightening the dead ones hair and dress, going to the dresser that along with the bed, almost fills the room. Taking out the well loved sheet, smelling of cedar and outside air from a recent laundering. Gently unfolding it so that the careful embroidery shows, and laying it over her as if she was sleeping…and only then pulling it up, over her face. I can see the woman, the form under the sheet, her ancient feet with their well-earned calluses…a shell, but one that was well loved, and remembered fondly, but with clarity, not illusion. This, to me, is “The Emperor of Ice Cream”