In an English country churchyard I walked among the graves,
marveling at the green of the hills, the gold of the sun
on a bright September day.
Around me were the dead; some laid in darkness
beneath headstones erased by weather and by time,
others under moss-stained monuments bearing their names and stories:
Eliza who died when she was twenty-one, and a baby of thirteen months,
and fathers, mothers, and children, farm workers, housewives and clergy.
The wind in tall pines muffled the busy sounds of traffic on the M5,
and beyond the branches a microwave tower stretched skyward where a plane
circled for landing at Bristol airport.
I remembered how my cousin told me
of the way the dead were stacked in graves
in old English cemeteries, one on top of the other
until there was barely dirt to cover them; and how flowers
were spread over the newly buried to kill the stench.
Beyond the churchyard hedge chickens clucked, and I smelled
cows and pigs and manure and the wind blew through my hair
sending it wildly alive around my head, covering my face,
tangling strands with pine boughs, leaving a trace of me,
the stranger, the interloper from another time and place,
to mix my DNA with the long-dead of Long Ashton, UK.
It was almost a year ago that I was there,
uncertain why I had come and why I noted the names
of people unknown and unconnected to me or mine,
my feet comfortable on old soil beside a stone church.
I remember the sudden swell of organ music that drew me
to the door and inside vaulted walls to where
a young black boy sat alone, playing a hymn I did not know.
My eyes met his and in that glance I felt
the ebb and flow of history, of time:
the graves, the wind, the church, me,
and this boy celebrating life with music
among the listening dead.