Friday, March 7, 2014

Glen Sorestad, Grave-tending

Mother and Father lie side by side
in the country churchyard northeast
of the shrinking farming village of Buchanan.
After ninety-two years and two husbands,
Mother returned to the farmland of her birth
to take her earthen place beside my father,
who had moldered alone almost forty years.

                            Unmarred blue overhead as we
                            move about the graveyard,
                            our feet swishing through grass
                            punctuated with wild strawberries,
                            the season more than a month past.
                            I remember summer school here,
                            fourteen, eating the tiny red delights
                            at every opportunity.  The past,
                            its taste in my mouth still lingers.
 This rural graveyard is small as cemeteries go, tidy and well kept. 
The grass is newly mown. This pleases us.
In a land of waning congregations, closed and abandoned churches,
the homes of the dead fall to neglect, lost history.
Prairie grasses and weeds: the final grave-keepers.
It will happen here. Not for a few years perhaps,
but how long will we make this annual visit to set aright
the visitations of unruly weather?

                             These huge spruce trees have long marked
                            the perimeters of this ancestral burial ground,
                            just as they have marked the bounds of a child’s memory.
                            The dark sentinels house birds, the evidence
                            spattered on every gravestone. The difficulty
                            of removal suggests bird shit runes may supersede
                            even the stone-etched grave homilies.
                            We do our best to restore my parents’ joint headstone
                            to its original pristineness. Perhaps we are the only ones
                            who care one iota about how this stone appears.
                            What we do here, no matter what we may say or think
                            is, after all, really for ourselves.        

 Artificial flowers seem tacky
as adornments for a memorial--
but they do have staying power.
We pull all last year’s blooms –
sun-faded and winter-beaten –
from the metal vase that stands
alongside the shared gravestone
of my parents. We will re-enact
this same ritual an hour later
in the cemetery fifteen miles
down the road where Sonia’s parents
and grandparents take their rest.

                                I take the hand brush we have brought
                               and sweep away the grit and cobwebs
                               from the stone, the bits of leaves, fine dust
                               that has settled on and into the niches
                               of this marble monument to two lives.
                               It has been over a year since our last visit.
                               Water, wind and sun have all had their way
                               with what we set in place to honour those
                               who leave having emptied themselves of love.
 My maternal grandparents lie 
less than fifty feet from where
we bend to brush and wipe and tidy.
No matter where I turn, uncles,
aunts, and cousins --  all mute
as they never are in memory.
I am in the arms of family,
a quiet comfort holds me.
Some died early, some late.
Almost, I feel their permanence.

                       Just one mile north of this graveyard
                       my childhood home still stands,
                       collapsing into itself, board by brick.
                       The wilderness has wormed its way
                       into the corpse of the house
                       that weathered every storm.
                       This churchyard now holds
                       a half-dozen who called that
                       two-storey frame house their home;
                       most of the others buried here
                       visited it on occasions.
                       So many stories lie here untold
                      below the prairie sod.                                                                                                

 Sonia arranges a fresh bouquet,
positions them with a florist’s touch
into the heavy graveside vase,
vibrant, an effusive cool burst
against the muggy heat of August.
The showy new additions, artificial
though they are, announce themselves
flamboyantly to the silence of stone.

                         We walk away from the cemetery
                         as we have come -- unobtrusive, 
                         contenting ourselves with doing
                         what our hearts have determined.
                         The hum of rural life is undisturbed.
                         Wind flows past, uncertain whispers.
                          Overhead the joyous sun.                            

Glen Sorestad is a well known Canadian poet whose work has been published widely throughout North America and elsewhere. His poems have appeared in over 60 anthologies and have been translated into over a half-dozen languages. His most recent books are the full-length poetry collection, a bilingual English/Spanish volume, A Thief of Impeccable Taste (Sand Crab Books, 2011) and the chapbook, Along Okema Road(Rubicon Press, 2013). 


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