For a Day at the Cemeteries

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I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
~Mary Oliver from “When Death Comes”

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stewartgraves

Slumber Interrupted

herman
my great great grandfather

an updated poem from Memorial Day 2010

Blazing sun bakes a lichen crust
atop a stone so feverish
it is hearth without fire,
reaching down deep
into soil holding a box
that knows no warmth.

Autumn windstorms rage,
lightning crack and thunder clap,
trembling the filled-hole grounds
as dying leaves spin and swirl
through arced cascade among tidy rows
till settled and spent.

Then crisp hoarfrost clings
in glittering crystalline coverlet
gracefully fallen from graying sky,
soft cotton batting fluffs
to pillow gentle slumber
uninterrupted.

When vernal raindrops quench
the thirst of dry bones
suspended between
welkin expanse
and earth’s darkest pit,

these silent stones will shout out~

still no more, reticent no longer,
waking to resonant reveille,
ready to blossom forth
in the fullness of time
and everlasting promise.

anna
my great grandmother

A Presence of Absence

photo by Gary Jarvis of Dutch Reformed Cemetery

“The sunlight now lay over the valley perfectly still. I went over to the graveyard beside the church and found them under the old cedars… I am finding it a little hard to say that I felt them resting there, but I did… I saw that, for me, this country would always be populated with presences and absences, presences of absences, the living and the dead. The world as it is would always be a reminder of the world that was, and of the world that is to come.”
Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow

Today, as always over the last weekend of May, we have a family reunion where most turn up missing.  A handful of the living come together for lunch and then a slew of the no-longer-living, some of whom have been caught napping for a century or more, are no-shows.

It is always on this day of cemetery visiting that I feel keenly the presence of their absence: the great greats I never knew, a great aunt who kept so many secrets, an alcoholic grandfather I barely remember, my grandmother whose inherent messiness I inherited, my parents who separated for ten years late in life, yet reunited long enough for their ashes to rest together for eternity.

It is good, as one of the still-for-now living, to approach these plots of grass with a wary weariness of the aging.  But for the grace of God, there will I be sooner than I wish to be.  There, thanks to the grace of God, will I one day be an absent presence for my children and hoped-for grandchildren to ponder.

The world as it is remembers the world that was.  The world to come calls us home in its time, where we all will be present and accounted for — our reunion celebration.

All in good time.