Dark takes the forest's coon walks and deer trails,
and the dusk of oak and pine encloses us.
I've carried water buckets up the hill
to her grave, and already she whispers
with my kinfolk in the various, quiet
voices of the land: a winter bird or two
I cannot see to name, a faint wind troubling
whatever tuft of grass or stubborn clinging
leaf it finds. My father mixes concrete
in his bucket. We smooth the bed of sand
we've trenched and raked then heave at each end
of the stone, our faces turning crimson
with its weight. We drive down stakes, run strings
taut along two edges of the marble.
My father takes a level from his pocket,
hangs it on the line, then gently taps
his stake. He pours the cement in as if
a stone sufficed to keep a name on earth.
We work and do not speak and honor her
wish not to have a preacher. Her sermon
is labor's eloquence, skill's profound scripture.
Her stone with the others marks a labyrinth
around that earth respect will not allow
a man to tread upon. All these rain-washed,
leaning names have worked the mystery of my life,
these stranger-kin whose lives are lost in bad
poetry, Bible verses, December wind.
The shuffle of my brogans on this ground
will say more of their stories than their names.
We have performed the offices of sons.
We have written her name in stone, have made
the stone right, so it will bear its slight,
inadequate story to generations
when my name besides will be a guessed-at
link at passages, a sound as stirring
and meaningless as bird call, pronounced above
these houses of dust by a descended son
or daughter of mine who, beyond her knowing,
wears the faint, bequeathed features which I wear,
who gestures perhaps as I do, whose body
was patterned by mine. But in a house close by
wait the living who have their present claim.
We say goodbye in silence and depart,
leaving her as she surely would desire
to the thriving company of winter birds
whose music follows us and does not fail,
dispersed in wayward passages of air.
(from Wayward Passages, Black Bay Books, Grand Ridge, Florida, 2006.)
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