Cake At The Wake – Chuka Susan Chesney

Artist’s Note: Years ago my Aunt Flora (my mother’s eldest sister), who lived in McAlester, Oklahoma with my Aunt Bea (the second eldest), sent us a big professional photograph of my Uncle E.B. in his casket at his funeral. Why she thought we would want that photograph, I will never know. Uncle E.B. was my Aunt Bea’s husband. My Aunt Bea, a very large, Fundamentalist Christian woman was standing next to the casket with an enormous grin on her face. One day, I was thinking about the photograph. I was suddenly overcome with a desire to paint it. My husband and I searched high and low for it, but we couldn’t find it. All we could find was a smaller photograph of Uncle E. B. in his casket with nobody around him. Aunt Flora had also sent the smaller photo.

So I decided to create my own scene. Instead of putting Aunt Bea next to Uncle E.B., I put Gloria Vanderbilt as a young woman into the painting. I pretended she was Uncle E.B.’s niece. Then I added my own wedding cake from my wedding pictures. There was a lovely cake in the original photograph that we couldn’t find. It said, “Happy Birthday, E. B. Joseph!” Aunt Bea claimed that it was Uncle E.B’s birthday when he died. She said it was the day he went to heaven, and that made it his birthday. There were roses on the cake. It was quite fancy. I added a cake knife. It is a knife that Aunt Flora actually gave me. I put in a vase of pretty flowers. My husband gave me those flowers. We just happened to have them in the house.


Chuka Susan Chesney is a poet, artist, and sculptor. For 14 years, she and her husband Kent owned a printing and graphics company. She belongs to the Los Angeles Art Association, Pasadena Society of Artists, and Women Painters West and has won awards for her paintings. Susan has always thought of herself as mainly an artist. But since she was in high school, she knew that she was secretly a poet, too. Lately she has been writing a lot of poems. Nine of them will be published in the next couple of months in Inklette, Peacock Journal, Poetry Leaves, and Crossings at Carnegie Poet/Artist Collaboration Exhibition and chapbook.

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