Maxwell Bodenheim

1892 - 1954 / Mississippi / United States

Meditations In A Cemetery

Grandiosely hackneyed subject,
I live in a house one hundred years old
Placed in the middle of a cemetery.
The cemetery is bothered by mausoleums
Where fragments of Greek and Gothic
Lie in orderly shame.
Slabs and crosses of stone
Remain unacquainted with the bones
That they must strive to introduce.
The trees retain their guiltless sibilants.
The trees tell me upon my morning walk:
'In other cemeteries,
Shakespeare, Maeterlinck and Shaw
Fail to produce the slightest awe
In trees that do not create for an audience.'
Being finalities, the grass and trees
Find no need for rules of etiquette.
Delicacy must be effortless
Or else it changes to a patched-up dress.
But delicate and coarse are words
For quickness that tries to linger,
And slowness that strives to be fast!
Emotions and thoughts are merely
The improvisations of motion,
And lack a permanent content.
An aging tree is wiser
Than an aging poet,
And death is wiser than both.
The scale ascends out of sight
And I recall that the morning is light
And smaller notes await me.
The tomb-stones around my path
Have been crisply visited by names
To which they bear no relation.
Imagine the perturbation
Of a stone removed
From the comprehension of a mountain
And branded with the name of A. Rozinsky!
Recollecting journeys of my own,
I close my eyes and leave the stone.
The names of other men entreat-
Slight variations in line
Ponderously refusing to resign.
Men who will be forgotten
Try to hinder the process with stone.
Because they dread the affirmation
Of ashes undiscovered in wind,
I am walking through this cemetery.

The old grave-diggers will soon
Astonish the earth below this oak.
From their faces adjectives have fled,
Leaving the essential noun:
Leaving also the unwilling frown
With which they parley with the earth . . .
Death, I must tell you of these things
Since you are unaware they exist.
You send an efficient servant
To the almost unseen fluctuations
Of tomb-stones, skulls, and lilies,
Reserving your eyes for larger games.
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