Monday, October 22, 2007

Memoirs for the Living

If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles. ~Walt Whitman

No amount of sidestepping will keep you from walking on the dead.

Whether by the crunch of autumn under your feet — or the dearth of space between tombstones — the result is a mere inevitability.

And so it goes between the Lights and the Hurts, the Fausts and the Fickles: any attempt at getting closer to the memorial itself means you're rattling old bones beneath you.

This worry has a funny way of rousing old fears concerning death: not so much the end of my life, per se, as the end of every life. Or more particularly: the end of generations and families and centuries such that one day maybe all the cemeteries as we know them will be full (Sorry! No vacancy!) in which case: what will we do with all of those bodies?

(Or so my eight-year-old-brain once pondered, visiting a cemetery for the first time.)

But there are some of us who go all the same, not just for funerals but for funerals in passing: marveling at old markers and quirky names. Photographing the changing leaves, and the art that sometimes rivals the most noted museums.

[I might argue that some of man's finest work is in the grave.]

But it is impossible, at any such instance, to not become invariably reverent and yet: so sad for our ilk (the living).

Everywhere under my feet, those bones. Those people. People who breathed, laughed, cried and loved. People who were hurt and scorned and, in most cases, died a bit sooner than they'd planned.

[Not that we ever really prepare for these things, but bear with me.]

It is impossible to think of these dead and not immediately think of the converse: the living who will — despite the best efforts of 16th century explorers and modern science alike — invariably join them.
There was a president, so noted by a tiny plaque behind his headstone (and still further back, the American flag tangled in tree limbs).

There were the president's men.

There was the criminal.

And a hint of the woman — that infamous Lady in Red — who loved him.

There was the poet: remembered only by those educated in his state, and forgotten by anyone who wasn't.

There were mothers...

And children...

And tokens to remind us of just how terribly difficult it is for the living to part with the dead.

But time, that implacable vixen, has a funny way of changing everything (specifically) in that it doesn't change a thing (generally). That is to say: the leaves change, snow rolls in and the flowers bloom. And there's not a damn thing we can do to stop any of it.

[Global warming notwithstanding.]

In fact, you might even say that our universal fear of death all boils down to this:

The fear of the unknown (the afterlife). And the fear of being forgotten (life).

Between these two worlds — between these two fears — it's a wonder we ever make it through the day without losing our lunch.

But, listen, there is beauty in this bittersweet.

I dare you to look at this

And tell me otherwise.


disgruntled world citizen said...

and you told me that your pics came out horribly. Lies, all lies. Someone else who is buried there: Etheridge Knight, poet.

ds said...

I used to hang out at graveyards a lot, but I'm not weird anymore. and I didn't know Etheridge Knight was burried there. guess I just figured he died in prison - no offence.


Glencross said...

I do like these pictorial essays of yours.

In fact I may have to shamelessley follow you and try one myself.

You seem to be having the same lovely autumn light we're having here at the moment.

thirdworstpoetinthegalaxy said...

DWC - I'll have to check that one out next time. And I stand by my original assessment.

DS - I've always embraced my inner weirdo.

Glen - Please do! And regularly, for that matter. You don't post often enough, if you ask me.

Jamie Willow said...

love this post. graveyards are filled to the brim with life...stories no longer told...

there's a little thing here in minne called the Ghosts and Graves tour which I love doing, so interesting to hear people's stories...although I think they embelish a little on that particular tour...whatever...still interesting...

Pamela said...

the graves of children always bring tears to my eyes. Not always so much for the little ones... but for the arms of the mothers from whom they were torn.

Mariposa said...

my god, you are spectacular! really, really spectacular. this is my favorite one yet.

XOXO said...

I feel as though this should be bound and given to anyone experiencing a loss. Maybe they wouldn't take comfort in it as I do. There's something to be said for knowing you are not alone when going through grief from death.