Sweet Things Among the Dead

At my father’s grave, I dig a thin trench into the hard ground that surrounds the stone marker with his name on it. Etched into the granite is a peaceful scene of a lake, a tree, loons, the sun, and an oft heard declarative statement of his: “Another beautiful sunset.” I don’t know if it’s permitted, but I sprinkle sunflower seeds into the trench and with my bare hand swipe the dusty dirt over the seeds and replace some of the scraggly ground cover around the stone’s perimeter. So no one will know.

In Maine, by the lake, there were, there are, many beautiful sunsets. Summer nights, Father and Mother went out to the shore to watch the evening glow, the gentle transformation of the sky—waves of saturated blues, golds, pinks, reds, lavender—until the prismatic curtain curled inward and closed at the horizon.

The horizon. The outer limit. A cemetery—the boundary where compact dirt separates the dead from the living. The dead, beyond all limitation, reside here in this sea of tombs. And the living, the very limited, come to meet them, say prayers, trace letters stamped in stone, remember sunsets, and place sweet things among the graves. An angel, a toy tractor, a cross, a bunny, a cowboy, golf balls, plastic birds, flowers, plaques, cards.

I walk the grounds and find the inscribed names of old friends and classmates—Cindy, George, Denis—who transport me back to high school, to Father’s classroom, to days we thought would never end (or, at times, endless). Sweet things are everywhere. Even here, at this terminus, far from school days, from the lake in Maine, from horseback riding, late night swims and campfires. Here, in all this passed-on sweetness, is where the eternal kaleidoscope sunset meets the horizon. At Father’s grave, again, I dig into the soil and set a purple petunia below his peppery headstone.

 

Silver is the Farm

The farm this morning, the rain, the absence of shadow, light, except for what the blanket of cloud could not hold back, and the barn more decrepit than ever, felt bound by loneliness. Still, I am drawn to the fields, the buildings, the garden plot that’s been newly tilled, prepped for the seeds which soon will be planted— when this place will be lonely no more.

How does a garden grow?

There should be silver bells, no? No. But silver is here. Silver is the barn, it’s  corrugated-metal-patchwork siding, the windows; silver is the flagpole, the clouds, the puddles in little hollows, the birds, the greyed and brittle sunflowers. Silver, the color of storm.  Though a storm, like the seeds, is followed by an awakening.

Lily of the Valley—a white bell—blossom in early summer. Their creamy color and sweet scent is a lovely contradiction to the old and worn house whereby they root, surrounded by tall, lush green leaves. If one does not bother to look by the weather-stripped door facing the driveway, one will miss the gentle summer bloom of the tiny bells. Later, a rumpus of color will be found in the flower beds: roses, peony, iris, coneflower, lambs-ear, looking like one of Monet’s fields at Argenteuil. The passerby will want to stop and walk through it.

But April, grey April, highlights the barn. In darkness or light, it is a beautiful, broken barn, silver and sage, lonely and loved.

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After Ginsberg

Ginsberg: soot and steam. Ginsberg: howl
and scream. Ginsberg: grit and grease, bleak
peace, dark moon, heat of June. Ginsberg: steel
and steal, machines too real, plight and fight, a
workman’s meal.

Ginsberg: Yacketayakking. Stolen nights,
breathing boxes, tubercular skies. From the ash, a
flower does rise, stares you down, right surprise.
The opposite of ripe: withering grey sunflower,
brittle smoking pipe.

Look at that sunflower. Man. A hint, a message,
a hope. Lest we forget—obliterate memory of
things gold, honest, gasping. Gasping,
gasping for glint, a stalk (even a dead stalk)
to climb, into clouds, above smog and
rotten soil, crude oil. Breathe, breathe.

Take the flower. Hold the flower. Be the
flower—sun and glean, son of dream. Take the
shadow of it home, specter and shade, pull
it from sawdust, a yellow-star bone, a banana
dock sermon.

Yes. In this thing: meaning.
Look, look: a perfect mummy of a sunflower, soul,
souling—singing sunflower, wildflower,
wild, tender, dead-eye flower. Take us home.

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