I went for a drive yesterday. A car was tailing me more closely than I liked, so on an impulse, I swerved into a cemetery drive. (As an aside, my music was on shuffle and the song that was playing was "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," which seemed oddly appropriate.) Earlier in the day, I had the not wholly original thought that writing only poetry might reinforce one's isolation and self-absorption. Poetry is a summoning of beauty or truth. It requires quiet contemplation and space to grow. Fiction, on the other hand, forces the writer into the heads of other people. Fiction is, by necessity, a reaching out. Cemeteries are that way, too. The people there are real. Or they were real. Now they're something in between. "Beyond the sunset," as so many of the inscriptions put it. I like visiting cemeteries. Particularly when I'm feeling tired of myself. Considering other people's lives--wondering who they were and whom they loved--isn't so much sad as it is engaging and oddly uplifting. (Except when I run across a child's grave. Damn.) I like reading the names. I like the specificity of the dates of birth and death, bookends to a lifetime filled with stories. I like seeing the remembrances left, graveside, from those committed to loving in death as well as they did in life. Usually, these consist of flowers. Maybe a flag or figurine. Even wind chimes, on occasion. But this small, rural cemetery was something else. The graves here were positively bustling with remembrances. Take a look:
Solar lights, for the darkest nights.
This child lived for two months.
17 years later, she's still missed.
I bet this lady liked dolphins.
She must have been a gardener.
Cardinals and butterflies and feasts of flowers.
This one made me smile.
A farmer, you think?
Fresh, but not too fresh.
Dead flowers. Well-worn hat. Sad.
The first gravestone inscription to ever make me laugh.
The front reads:
"Here lies atheist Bob Donohoe.
All dressed up and no place to go.
And his ever loving wife
The back says:
"Rest in peace Mom and Dad.
We know you are together in Heaven.
Well, this should be interesting."
How can any poet beat that?
I don't want to be buried. I want to be cremated and grow back as a tree, because dammit, I am a poet and an atheist (like Bob here) and I want something of myself to endure after I'm gone. But there is something deeply touching in how committed these mourners are to honoring (and maybe comforting?) their dead. Ultimately, it's for themselves, I suppose. A tangible releasing of the love that no longer has a place to call home.
Down furtive roads that curve the creek and skim the leaves,
a frictional physics
compounding the whispers
of secrets leaping
through the air
I want to hear
the tar traps blistered by the sun
snapping and cracking beneath my tread like a teenage girl and her pink wad of gum as I'm flung, whisked, borne along
Until I reach an outer realm where the crow is king of his mailbox throne,
the address blocked in a five digit code,
a blankness there as if to say: You'll get where you need to be or you're going to stay lost, my friend
I want to feel the road run rough,
forget its manners,
fall into ruts and gravel, dirt and dust, the car's shocks bewitched into a state of astonishment,
with all the flux of my reactionary atoms flipping their polarity I want to revel in this silken husk: sweat beneath my arms and breasts, glazing two thighs like an axel grease, as my fingers keep slipping off the wheel to taste the air outside But the wind, alone for four billion years, is a lover indifferent to the lure of my skin, while the treetops toss and flounce like jealous rivals with feathers in their mouths
So my vision bends-- scales, skirts, ascends-- until every hay bale is Rapunzel's hair, neatly bound with fraying ends While mine's a coarseness running free, a comet's tail torn away, my heart the pedal my foot must squeeze as consciousness pulls at the speed of storms, still far far ahead
The baseball announcer on the AM dial: the sound of summer corked with amber My granddad sits in his favorite spot working TheTimes Sunday crossword puzzle The knock of the ball against the bat The announcer's call reaching the upper deck His pencil hovers over 39 Down A six-letter word for unfilled The Reds are looking like they might stand a chance Same time and place tomorrow, fans
passed in a flash of country road And yet the urge to return gnaws at me. A vision exists by its own specifics and I can be that child again, tasked with A box of Magic Markers and rings of trees to color in
Before growing bored and taking up matches, setting off such a phantasm of flames
That the whole stack'd crack and burst like Independence Day
Round little mouths all going "ahhh" which is a sound the same in every language. Awe. The word sings such a song in me. We should all set our sights on fire, given half a chance. We ought all stand back together to watch what we're capable of.
Her nails want some skin to sink into. Her jaw sometimes aches when she wakes up in the morning. She'll fashion a foothold; the back of her knee, maybe. Twisting her wrists around her own DNA, she'll drag herself up Base by base, until she knows the length of her rein Touching her mistakes the way Jesus touched the lepers' feet Until she touches an ending place. There, she'll plant a flag. Scatter some stars. Update the myths. Punch a black hole through the Milky Way. Be put in her place. Pout. Hurt. Be over it, a bit. Remind herself again that she is free to fail, that freedom to fail is everything. Her religion is doubt. It changes her Hourly.
The evolutionary tree split at the intersection of what is & what if. That’s where we got lost; that’s where they took a hike. In the smudge of a serif, humans were off. That’s how a limb loped on and up, sticking its head between the clouds, where cities gleam and giants growl. Sacrificing an impulse to devour and fuck for a Reveille call of more sacrifice. Until— Civilization But then— A crack And now— Clouds pissing carbon on the rest of the schmucks, and if it’s not dark yet, Cassandra's warming Taps. So— I mean— Are we just— Atlas shrugs; they look away? When, exactly, will what is become what is not and never will be again? Can we naturally select for some sanity here? Or are we doomed to fall on our bottom line-- cartoon apes with spinning legs as the snap of the trunk ricochets-- blinking at so much earth rushing up, still having the gall to ask, My God, My God: Why hast thou forsaken us?