Among the Dead

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.

 

 

 

 

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Native Tongue

Love speaks a secret language

all can understand;

no interpreter needed.

 

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Watcher at the Grave

She crouches, hunkered and alone.

The gray stones like mossy watchmen

’round the mourner at the grave.

Her golden hair glints in July’s evening sun,

while birds flit and twitter sweet songs,

and a yellow butterfly flutters around pink phlox.

The heat shimmers, but does not dry

her streak’ed face.

Grief is not a simple cut or a clean, tidy break;

it bleeds from ragged holes in broken hearts,

and leaves its trace in silent, lonely tears.

This one, this girl beside her mother’s grave,

once brazen, bold and little caring

for what her words and deeds might wreak;

now, too late, she knows the loss,

now she weeps and now she mourns

and calls her mother’s name,

covers her face with her arms against the truth

that what once she had, will never be again.

The hands that stroked, caressed, beseeched,

are still, six feet below;

and though she rails and screams and beats

her fists against the earth,

the only answer she will hear

is the echo of her misery.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tropical Treachery

Twisting, warm southern river

flows slow, liquid silk

slithering, hiding secrets;

 

In its dark waters

teeth, claws, poison fangs

lurk, invisible evil;

 

Unwary legs, and white, white feet

bathe, sacrificial

as innocent, naked lambs.

 

 

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If You Have Trees

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“You don’t want trees,” the appraiser said,

“You need to cut them down

To increase the value of your home.

Because if you have trees

You will will have leaves

That will fall and clog your gutters, litter your lawn

And blanket your garden.

You will need to climb ladders,

To rake and bag and and haul off

Leaves by the thousands.

You will worry when the wind is strong

And the trees bend and sometimes break

And their twigs and branches will fall

And need to be picked up

So you can mow your perfect green lawn.

You will have birds dropping their waste,

Streaking your windshields and decks.

You will have pollen in the spring

That coats your car and deck with fuzzy green

And makes you sneeze

And sneeze

and sneeze.”

 

He is right, of course.

If you have trees you will have leaves,

Soft green in spring deepening and ripening

To emerald in summer, gold and ruby in fall.

You will have blossoms that perfume the air

and bear forth good fruit.

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You will have shade for summer picnics,

Kindling for your fire,

Mulch for your gardens.

You will watch your trees sway and dance in the wind,

As graceful as any dancer, as sturdy as any man-built thing.

You will have pen-and-ink lines

Drawn stark and graceful

Against cold winter skies,

Sometimes outlined in snowy white

Or icy, icy crystal.

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You will have birds,

Cardinals and robins and chickadees,

Bluejays and wrens and sparrows

And you will watch the birds court, build their nests,

And raise their young to fly, fly, fly

If you have trees.

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Storm Warning

Bright sun on white sheets;

on the horizon thunder.

Black clouds pile with threat.

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Take as Needed

The neighbors put up hay today

and in the field a Massey Ferguson rested

on sheets of felled grass and all

washed in the gold of mid-June evening sun

while I, passing and with no camera,

hesitated only a moment

to register the sight

then hurried on, leaving

the ripe hay, the aged tractor

and gilded light

to be remembered

when a place of peace

is needed.

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