Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Martha Deed

The Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park

. . .  The winds' wings beat upon the stones,
Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush
At the sea's throat and wring it in the slush
Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones
Cry out in the long night . . .
              – Robert Lowell, The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket

a finch sings on a bare branch
the dead are lying where they lay the day before
all dead
still dead
privately and peacefully

until the Quaker women come with rakes and tarps
survey what Winter does to a cemetery in Prospect Park

the gate is unlocked against unwelcome visitors

This is a Private Cemetery
preserved for the peace of the dead
and not for tourists
though old and historic

The mourners come
they have come a long way to visit
their recently dead and buried daughter

She did not die at sea
like the Quaker fishermen of Nantucket
or in war on foreign soil
but – like the others –
her bones cry out for justice

The mourners know she isn't there
but it is the best that they can do

a 10-hour drive through rain and snow 
past Finger Lakes
through the Catskills
the motel in Nyack
then the drive to Manhattan
the search for parking
the mile walk to the friend's apartment

and the next day
the day of the committee's visit
and the mourners’ –

Three subway trains and a walk
to the unlocked gate
even though

They know she isn't there
but it is the best that they can do

Four days away from home
once a year
they climb the hill
one of them stumbles
climbing the hill to the too-soon grave
of the only child of one of them
struck dead by doctors by mistake
the parents still raw with knowledge

The daughter photographed
documented everything
about her life and dying
ordered her mother to report
what happened

and so
the photographs –
a hole just big enough to accommodate
the vaulted ashes black against the snow

and then the setting of the stone
cherry blossoms and a Scarlet Tanager
teasing from a nearby tree

and today the stone
dead leaves nested round it

The women with rakes descend
it is their cemetery
the mourners' by permit only
and only if they follow permitted mourning rituals

which have not been disclosed
first one, then two, then three at once
What are you doing?
Where are you going in our cemetery?
People come here
pretending to be bereaved
and they take pictures
of our private stones
and put them on the internet
What are you doing?
Taking photographs of birds and flowers in early Spring
to remember your daughter by
in this peaceful place?
They lie to us
They violate our privacy
The dead are not to be disturbed

The child's grave
on the hill beside three junipers
no older now than she was when she died
the child is not there
the child's resting place
no place of rest
in the cemetery committee's


Upon reading Mike Basinski's poetry

Have I reached the age
should I reach the age
when it would be wise
to adopt a form of discourse
perhaps post avant post modern
scattered, dense
sufficiently experimental
a formal dementia if you will
married to the real thing perhaps
so no one could tell
unless the poet switched off
mirth and glee revealing agony

Is it March or April she asks
I must date this imprecise text

Birthday coming
on its way as well:
climate change
unsafe beaches
sharks near shore

Do you get my drift?

We are eating meatloaf from the church today

"Memes" are all the rage in my circles
like kumquats
One's a fruit
I cannot classify the other

Just know
I am far too young for "Beat"
Post-Beat maybe tho' trains no longer
glide with open doors across green prairies
sucking college kids off rural campuses
for rides to Faribault

They say
they'll figure out later
how they'll get back to campus
after riding freights with bums

No guns in those days
a rifle maybe
needles and knives like today,
and home-brewed beer

Hopping freights not against the rules
like hitchhiking back to Northfield
which could mean a letter to your parents
from the Dean

It's a joke set next to Faulkner, Hemingway and Kerouac
Only Faulkner fit to speak at convocation

The rest are dead, I think
or have pets which are not allowed
or smell

Finally, to our alumni let me add
Stay home in a tornado
on the lowest level of your house
or if it's new with no below
ride out the storm in tub or shower

Remember your alma mater in your Will

To revise this poem:
chip away at dross
expose intention



Climate Change

Our pet snake Lotus escapes from her skin and discards it in the pachysandra patch at the foot of three concrete steps to the front door of our house.  Though grass breaks under his feet, the master mows the lawn atop his shiny green John Deere, the cutting akin to trimming a bald man's hair.

Fourteen species of baby birds zip across the yard chasing bugs and thumping against the kitchen window.  They fall twisted to the ground, come to, and fly over the deer cloth fencing. 

We walk outside and are not bitten.  Deer pant in the woods, too thin for ticks.

A fruit ripe with evil:  Suck the juice out of it.  Frack it.  Freeze it.  Dry it.  Set it in a dark closet for ten years.  Let all laws expire.  Wait for the victims to die.  Failing that, wait for the perps to die.  And then say you're sorry, but don't tell them what

you're sorry for.

It's a riddle –  what we are talking about.  You could call it climate change.  The temperature rising if you will until the gun catalogs sit singed in a gray metal mailbox if you don't collect it soon enough.

You could call it that.

You could call it the inconsiderate multi-diseased adult who enters your ER expecting cure, but finds death instead.  Ruining your record by raising patient safety issues, threatening your bottom – line  – when the wrong voices are listened to, the carpets rise and dust balls fly in the executive offices, IEDs of a bureaucratic sort created by the rank amateur PhD types who don't know how to count adverse events – properly

or drones sent to bring wayward citizens home to their great father in the sky – involuntarily – the flying menless drones fueled by definitions of bad citizenship.

so is it any wonder you have to keep your children under their beds as well and away from positive influences like coaches and priests?

Which brings me back to snakes, but I'm done (for now) . . .


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