Portrait of a Cemetery – Poetry by Ian Goodale

Caspar David Friedrich – Cemetary Entrance

His eyes are brighter than the tombstones
Reflecting the sky in polished stone mirrors
Sticking like teeth up out of sodden and
Dew-drizzled earth: empty fields
Brandishing smiles of the dead, memento mori
Brushed clean every weekend by a caretaker
With a brash mustache and an indeterminate dialect
That blooms from his mouth in bushels of syllables
Localized, calcified by time into regional statues
Of sound on the tongue, stuck in the mouth like a polyp,
Unblushing and bold as he speaks through a smile
Cracked and cratered by age.
The eyes that are lined, now, with bluish circles
That burden the heart and blush one’s lust for life,
Brandish death like a cutlass at the throat of all libation,
filling buckets with our cool-running laughter.

The grass is dotted by
Rounded circles of green-edged red,
Blood blossoming stems dripping
Cacophonous honey
(Dread sweetness)
From the coil of callous expiring:
Humdrum flowers—
Not kind, but sweet,
Not beautiful, but pretty—
Surrounding us like a moat,
or a fortress with floral walls,
As if to say:
Do not confront us with the obvious end to all our worries and wants,
Do not remind us of the lucid conclusion
To our lives and all those that will follow
Or came before.
The moderate traffic on the neighboring road
Echoes these assuaging whispers, unwittingly,
Like a serf unaware of her bondage.
We cannot dismiss them any longer.

The grave is dug
(Dark prism,
Moist and sorrowful box)
And filled with the wood weighed down by the limp body with
Shining eyes that cannot be quelled by death.
The undertaker couldn’t close them,
For some reason,
And the family declined to have them sewn shut.
In the past they would sometimes put a string
Affixed to a bell above the ground
To sound if the deceased were to reanimate, tugged
By a panicked finger—
But not anymore,
The tradition long abandoned to a
Past musty with earthsmell,
caged in the crowded cell of our collective forgetting.
And so the box is lowered—
Accompanied only by the corpse,
Isolated and cold.
The tombstone is still empty,
Unfinished, but will soon be carved
With an epitaph of reasonable length,
measured and steady in its prose,
meaning molded like a child’s clay into its words,
full of the patience of the dead
And the disquiet of the living.

About the Poet

Ian Goodale’s work has appeared in Web Conjunctions, Drunken Boat, Gone Lawn, and The Gravity of the Thing, in addition to other journals. He works as an academic librarian in Austin, TX, where he lives with his wife and daughter. His website can be found here.

For the first time in nearly five years, Vita Brevis is closed for submission. Read the full story here.

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