Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Mary Girvan's Grave

What is it that beckons to me
From these country graveyards?
Peace, please, I laugh
Unless you think them selfish
The dead do not sleep
Whether it be some God or me that raises them
Can we suppose them unconcerned?
Would you have them less virtuous in death than they were in life?
Have they never visited you?
Have you never called on them?
Silence and shade, no
I do not think the dead know more of these than I
Death is no darker than life
There are none more restless than those alone with
      their thoughts in a small place
Antiquity, no, again
Death is no older than tomorrow
It has no time
Order, the solace of resolution
Death has no reason
Other than that we begin
Ghosts, it is true
I am accustomed to their presence
Am more consoled than haunted by them
But I need not travel so far for their company
Need not even die to become one
One is born a ghost, after all
And death can do nothing to alter that
Any more than it changes the way
     one has lived
Did it have this power, why mourn?
Compassion? No, I do not forgive
   them, and I sense
   their resentment
What matters most to the dead is that
    they are dead
What matters most to us is that
    we live
Or should
I think I come for the names, and the
   certainty that God is not there
Any more than that they are with him
The absence of churches, abandoned and finally
    removed as the land rose in value
That the dead themselves have not yet been plowed
    further under testimony not to honorable memory,
        but fear and sanctimony as atavistic as greed
One honors the dead with the way one lives, and that evidence
    is all around them, crowding in on their little domain as the
       wires on our solitude
I come for the names, each separate one, and that
Which encompasses and distinguishes them all
And could not spoken of at home even as it surrounded us
And left me frightened not so much by its fact
As by its unspeakability, its trembling and silence
Wherefore then would I pray, if God's name could be pronounced?
What righteous awe could I feel for one so casually addressed?
So I turned myself rightside out to learn whether it was within, and where
And stared at it as if into a mirror, blinked but never turned away
Until now, in time; and never have I been to war, and never will I go
And never need you go, the one with your name, alone
No matter what all the others may do, no matter
   their gifts of riches and persuasion
Every taking is an act of war, every profit, every purchase, every crime,
   even against the criminal, each ownership, all speculation
         every manifestation of power
For you, the one with your name, alone
No matter what all the others may do, no matter
   their gifts of riches and persuasion
Death is supreme, yet it can be bought, money does its work
Life cannot, not yet, not ever, it can only be given
And taken for itself, it need be nor cost anything mor
And you are alive, and so am I
And for this some great Thanksgiving is owed
That I have been far too long in pronouncing
In the graveyard death has so many names, all of them different
And you can read them and speak them aloud and honor them
And when you do they are not so much diminished
And in pronouncing them it is defeated
Beneath her humble wooden cross Mary Girvan is four years old
Were her people too poor to afford a stone?
Too proud to ask their church for help?
Was it the Spanish flu that carried her away?
Her years are right, as etched on the whitewashed cross,
    and surely the epidemic struck hardest among children
Imagine a time when such things were possible
Where have you seen death?
On CNN or in a stock market report?
Do you pity the poor immigrant  or hound him
     from your streetcorners?
Would you condemn too young a man
    for his act of fathomless despair,
    or pray instead that the death he made be the last one?
To labor for its creation is all we will ever know of paradise
Where is your life recorded?  In a vault?  In the scratchings made by
    cats on cherrywood tabletops, restored, once lustrous antiques?
Do you have wrinkles around your eyes?  Did you laugh a lot,
    or stand too long in the sun?
One is always more than many
Else history is nothing more than a cemetery
And the doings of great men
Each time I leave her flowers, and behold

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