Today's poetry prompt -- earth. Haiku is a form that celebrates nature, and what is more natural than earth herself? Cemeteries also celebrate earth, the plantings sprung beautiful from decay. I present my Friday Two-Fer -- enjoy!
spinning through time – mere dust mote
in the eye of god.
In the Cemetery On the Tenth Year of Her Death
The hum of Memorial Drive traffic filters down the side streets. We walk for a long time, but instead of feeling tired my legs seem to strengthen and feel energized.
Brattle Street branches into another, busier avenue. A sea of traffic idles at the stop light. Ben grabs my hand and we race across the street, giggling as the light changes and cars honk. We find ourselves facing the entrance to Mount Auburn cemetery. I stop laughing; I have no desire to go to a graveyard. Not today.
“Hey, it’s beautiful here,” he says. “Trust me.”
He guides me past the wrought iron gates buttressed by granite pediments. Several paved lanes converge off the semi-circular paved entrance. Ben chooses the middle path.
The outside world peels away. Dazzling pink and white crabapples and magnolias cover the hilly terrain. Headstones and monuments pucker the grounds, large marble affairs that swell with importance next to more humble limestone markers. Birds warble, and something sweet, maybe viburnum or lilac, scents the air. We walk the road in silence. Several cars pass us in slow procession, black and shiny. After they disappear around a corner, Ben takes my hand and skirts to the right down a pea gravel path. The air cools as we descend through a dark grove of rhododendrons, their waxy leaves highlighting fuchsia flowers. The floral smell thickens.
We emerge in a clearing. A marble bench faces a small hill dotted with dogwood. Ben walks to the largest grave. Golden lichen flecks the pearly white of the rounded headstone, pitted from a century in the elements. Etched doves, carrying leaves, flank the epitaph: Johanna Nilsson. Mother, Wife, Beloved Angel. 1856 – 1897.
My mother's name.
A reverent lilac stands behind the headstone. Beside her, in matching alabaster, rests the husband. Smaller grave markers scatter at their footstones, children and grandchildren and their progeny. But my gaze stays with her headstone.
I sink to the bench. Ben settles beside me.
“If there was a single present I could give you, it would be to peel back time so you could be with your mother,” he says. “Do you ever talk to her?”
Tears well in my eyes. I shake my head. He reaches for my hand.
“You should. You keep her memory alive in your mind,” he says. “Keep her in your heart - talk to her.”
But she’s dead, I want to say. I edge back; his eyes gleam with a strange intensity. I must look as skeptical as I feel because he squeezes my hand.
“Here, I’ll do it with you.” He closes his eyes.
I close mine, too. Something rustles in the underbrush, a squirrel or bird, then silences. The wind passes through the tree tops, a low howl, and limbs scrape against each other. Ben breathes in a slow quiet rhythm. I feel his body soften into the hard bench but mine stays rigid. Talk to her. I try to envision my mother, her face, her eyes, but only can see the mound of dirt that covered her, the blackness of it keeping the light from her, the muffled voice of the priest intoning May Johanna Miller forever rest in peace.
Peace. This is all I want. I squirm, frustrated, my legs crossing and uncrossing. I try to see my mother, remember her. Ben’s arm snakes around my back and he pulls me close so my head rests on his shoulder. I squeeze back tears and silver lines tangle the back of my eyelids, like her hair streaming in the breeze rushing through the car’s rolled-down windows and then I hear her laugh and she turns to me in the back seat and asks, “Is this too much air?” I giggle back at our shared glee and reach toward her and she takes my hand and we laugh and laugh as daddy drives us down the mountain, the cool air pummeling us with joy. There is something I want to tell her, but the car slows, her hair collapses around the back of her head and she turns to my father.
The silver streaks fade. A mockingbird chortles over my head. A small sob loosens in my chest but I swallow it down.
“Hey,” he whispers. “Did you talk to her?”
I shake my head, my face rubbing against his sweater. The wool smells good, like him. “Almost, though.” I look up and try to smile. “We laughed.”
“Laughing’s even better.” He traces my eyebrows with his finger. “You know I can’t bring your mother back, but I can always be here to help you remember her.”
We rise and stand by the grave for a few silent moments. I don’t want to leave and tell him this, and he assures me he’ll come back here with me whenever I want. I wonder about this Johanna, wonder if maybe there is a heaven after all, and that maybe all the Johanna’s of the world watch over their children still left on earth. I want to believe this, just as, for the first time, I want to believe Ben could be my home.
(Excerpted from BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT, a love story)