Following an uncle’s accordion hymn
my family drifts through the iron arch of the cemetery
where scrubbed gravestones
state their silent litany of names.
Mute as night birds the children scatter,
lie down in the wet grass while the grownups sing,
remembering the sad music of their own childhoods,
dust swept under the parlor rug
before the family gathers.
I think about my cousin’s son
lying in the small white coffin,
about my youngest screaming my name in her sleep.
The sky turns light. Shacksmoke drifts up
from the squatters’ camp nearby and steam rises
from the fresh dug grave. Awash in groundfog
bathtub madonnas stand stranded in their grottos.
No one is alone or unblessed
with what haunts each of us.
While the preacher says a final prayer
I watch his reflection waver
in the toe of the undertaker’s black boot.
When the undertaker gives the sign
four men lower the casket into the ground
and my cousin and her husband step to the edge of the grave.
The adults form a circle around them,
around the coffin that gleams
like a vein of silver in a strip mine.
The sun burns through the vapor,
we sing a favorite hymn,
take turns shoveling dirt into the grave.
After the ground’s leveled and raked for seed
we drift off to gather the children.
The youngest have pulled their shoes and socks off
and are licking dew from blades of grass.