leo dangel | a memory of bears

10 01 2009


Poetry Dispatch No.265 | January 10, 2009

In Memoriam

My partner’s father, Steve Kozak, died this past week in Michigan at the age of 88. Jude loved him in that deep dimension of the human heart that only a father and daughter understand though seldom talk about till the appointed hour, if then. I considered him a father-in-law at heart—that ‘other relationship’ with its own peculiar passageways and boundaries. We shared an ethnic past, rooted in Czech traditions, including a love of stories and laughter. I never got to know him well, that distance across the great Lake Michigan, a boundary for sure, but I will not forget that Steve Kozak smile when he was about to tell you something he knew you would enjoy.

He was an ‘UpNorth’ kind of guy…a trout fisherman, a camper, who instilled that sense of beauty and quiet of the northwoods…lakes and running river water… in all his children, especially his daughter Jude, whose greatest joy is to sit around a campfire with friends, swapping tales. Not a bad inheritance from “Pop.”

At one point during the brief funeral arrangements this past week, Jude mentioned the possibility that she and her two sisters might serve as pall bearers. I thought that rather unique, and could not recall ever witnessing a woman pall bearer.

Later that night I remembered a poem by my friend, Leo Dangel. An ‘UpNorth’, rural, Midwestern kind of poem.

This is for father and daughter, the whole Kozak family, right down to the latest great grandson, with warmth, reverence, and a gentle smile in a time of memories, love, and loss. —Norbert Blei



by Leo Dangel

I learned my father would play a role
in the funeral, a pallbearer. It sounded
like an animal, a bear named Paul,
something like a teddy bear.

And the dead man’s name, Joe Bauer,
sounded bearlike, a name I often heard,
though I never saw him alive
and didn’t know he was my great-uncle.

After the funeral, walking in line
toward the open casket at the back
of the church, I was curious
to see my first dead man.

I expected something ghostly or strange
but only remember he had black hair
and wore a brown suit. He looked
ordinary, I think a little like my father.

And I remember this: when the “paul bears”
carried the casket across the country road
to the cemetery, I pictured them as six bears,
lumbering on their hind legs.

I have no instructions for my funeral,
but if relatives gather around my bed,
my mind a little fuzzy, I might say,
“I’d like some bears to carry me—

big bears, with fur and smiling teeth.”

from THE CROW ON THE GOLDEN ARCHES, Spoon River Poetry Press, 2004