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Miriam Bird Greenberg

Toll the church bell
all day to count the dead one’s age.

Send someone with a letter
in a black-bordered envelope

to the relatives on the far end
of the mountain.

Wash the body, lay it up
on a plain plank

till the casket arrives.
Strip the bed, scald everything

in an iron pot in the yard.
Split a shirt down its back

to dress the body
before it stiffens. Then wait up

all night singing hymns
softly until daybreak comes,

in the corners anyone still awake
telling their stories:

when I washed my husband,
says one, I found a birthmark

I never knew he had.

Miriam Bird Greenberg

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