They sat with him in a circle,
Surrounded by markers with unfamiliar names, smelling of plastic
Flowers, so pretty, some pleased at so many.
The old man turned from their fragrance,
A fragrance not real, not right, faded and false.
He noticed the the mound of earth, rich with clay,
Carelessly covered, waiting, a silent witness
To a family's grief. 'Why do they hide it?'
He wondered, 'We know what its for.'
The old man looked down at his feet,
Resting on plastic grass, lifeless, too green.
"We never used this when I was a boy.
The bare earth was all we had."
"When I was a boy,
We made the coffin ourselves, us family,
Hammering, cutting, measuring
Throughout the night.
We had no steel or satin lining.
We climbed the hill,
And dug the hole, with sweat and tears,
We dug it deep, with shovel and spade,
Taking turns, the mountain breeze
Blowing our hair, whispering comfort.
We sat up with our dead,
And drank of spirits, and chicory coffee,
Sweetened with memories, filled
With taste of home and family.
In everyday clothes, we sat,
No one minding the graveyard
dirt on our shoes.
There wasn't no hearse.
Back then, We lifted the coffin,
Three on a side, slowly making our way,
Up, up, to the place we had carved,
A good place, a fine place to rest.
We lowered our dead into the ground,
And gathered, singing the hymns of our fathers
Listening to a preacher who felt our loss,
Tears falling on plain brown dirt.
We tossed fresh flowers, carefully gathered,
Sweet William, and wild rose.
Turning away, heading home, less one.
Feasting and talking into the night,
We gathered closely, remembering.
And, By god, we took our time.
No one said it was over at nine pm.
It was over when we couldn't talk no more."
He listened to the words
The young preacher said, words
He had been given to say, just a day before.
He watched the young man, seeing the falseness
In his smile, with eyes grown dim with time.
'Why, you didn't know her at all' he thought.
'No, not one damned bit, not her fire, her laughter,
That spark that was hers.
You didn't know my Mary, false profit.'
Lord, he wished he were a boy again, not
Grown into an old man, living in a foreign time,
Doing what his children said, pleasing them,
Not even allowed to stay, seeing his beloved
Lowered into the ground.
"Why? he wondered.
'We're the ones who should see her through.
Not these strangers, not the ones who didn't love her,
Knew her every look and thought and smile."
He longed for how it used to be
When family rested high on the hill,
Flowers growing, wild and free,
The sweet smell of honeysuckle
Drifting on summer air
Snowfall that glistened under a winter moon.
He sat in his folding chair, but his tears could not fall
In this neutral place, bereft of family,
No old stones bearing familiar names.
Not here, not now, these strangers who
Desperately tried to hide that which should be said.
That she was dead, crossed-over.
She's gone, oh, yes,
And she'll lie away from her people.
"Oh, God, Let me take her home,
Where she can rest, where I can see her
From my window, not a stone's throw from my porch.
And in the evening, sit and rock, and we'll have a word or two.
She'll be with family,
As she should be."
As she should be.'
With his gray head down, they led him away.
"You know people be coming Daddy
Best change our clothes.
Don't be sad, Daddy,
She won't suffer anymore.
God's will be done.
I'll fetch you back real soon.
I promise, Daddy."
Such lies, he thought.