Location, Edenton, North Carolina: In Edenton is a small cemetery with large gray slabs and tablet stones from the 18th century. Among the traditional skulls and winged angel heads is this beautiful weathered image of weeping willow and urn. My wife and I have wandered through many cemeteries all over the country looking for such beauties as this. We never think it’s strange to do so.
Memorial Days: A Poem Deconstructed
An Essay Into Memory by James Hart
~ a work in progress ~
“Memorial Days: A Poem Deconstructed” is the title of a work in progress that I began today. It is an experimental essay breaking down the following poem line by line with the intention of using each line as a starting point for memory and association. I want to explore what was going on behind my thinking over fifteen years ago that collapsed itself, at the time, into this poem. At the time of its composition, and still true today, memories and observations made over a span of 40 years inform the poem’s images. Until the essay is finished, I am posting the poem with this note to indicate there will be no new items posted for the duration that I am working on the essay – writing and revising it. For display purposes, I have set each sentence as a paragraph, because WordPress format does not allow me to bring along the original justified block format I use for prose poems.
Memorial Days: a prose poem
for Sharon Catlin Coleman
Time eats them all eventually, the houses of my memory gone year by hungry year.
Most of them just slowly fold, disappearing into omnivorous earth marked by weedy drives and hollow stands of trees where a barn and asymmetrical emptiness hold the harvest of the years.
Sometimes they fall to predatory storms, scavengers nosing their bony remains.
A few find grace in salvage taken somewhere further down the road.
Tabulating these former houses, another one down and gone, makes a mental calendar, a way of giving annual form to formlessness, as I drive out country roads to decorate my family’s dead where they lay in cemeteries bearing family or biblical names: Braden, Mt. Zion, Appleberry, and Ebenezer, my favorite name for its hard meaning: stone of help.
Out of touch with generations, my fingertips trace their vanishing names eroding the older stones, victims of discerning water and digestive weather.
My parents’ names more newly hewn will someday feed the cravings of a distant wind.
My sons endure their strange pilgrimage across the countryside of the dead, requesting favorite family stories to help the car move more quickly along the miles as I tell myself I serve the replenished past for them.
But I know it’s only my lonely hopefulness that these stones might flesh familiar bones, that houses might home us again, that time’s insatiability might turn to stone before it swallows my fading name.
And so we take the fast road home under darkness sifting down from stars: my sons sensing this rhythm in their sleeping breathing, their heads resting and rocking with the car’s urgent pace, dreaming their ancestors’ feasted dreams.
Note: Sharon Catlin Coleman is the unidentified person
to whom “The Story of Emma” is addressed in an earlier post.