Saturday, July 31, 2010

a fine morning at the cemetery

though none I think do there embrace."

Yesterday was a good day. I think this may be in part because I left the house unusually early, around 8am, for no good reason other than I'd been up since six and didn't want to lay around as I often do. So I hopped on my bike and rode the usual route down Central towards work; and came to the Catholic Cemetery on along the way, and having the time, turned in.

Now I should try to explain that I love some cemeteries; not all, but just the oldest ones, those places with leaning stones carved with now-lost skill, their inscriptions softened and eroded by time and the acid rains. This particular graveyard is lovely, planted thickly with tall oaks which strew their acorns across the lane; I can hear them crunching under my tires. On the face of it, the entrance is narrow, and Central is a busy street, so the place is easy to miss. But the land stretches far back, several blocks, and is only bordered on the south by backyard fences; to the north and east is the rail yard devoid of buildings, for the most part. Under the oaks the light is dim and a little gray, and the weathered stones are pearlescent. The traffic sounds fade quickly as I pedal down the lane, and by the time I reach the turn-around, all I hear are birds and the quiet hissing of sprinklers where the newer plots are being watered.

I love this cemetery and others like it, because of the peacefulness there. I've never felt as though spooks or malevolent forces would be found there. The place is more like a refuge. A quiet place in the middle of the city, where souls went to their rest. The Irish immigrants and the Italians, the very occasional German Catholic; names of unknown lineage as well. And the dates, people who died before my grandparents were born. Babies whose birth and death dates were the same; beloved Mothers, Fathers. Brigid and Mary and Irene. Patrick and John and Malcolm.

I stayed about half an hour, and left the bicycle leaning against a tree. I noticed an old neglected stone, a flat one (the cheapest kind) just inches from the pavement of the lane. It was barely visible under the large trash can which contained metal bouquet holders, rusting and rain-filled. Shoving the precarious metal container to one side, I pushed at the obscuring soil, polishing the marble with the toe of my shoe: "Charles." I wandered, and gathered worn fragments of silk flowers, the tattered and weather-beaten remnants of which I've incorporated into a sewing project recently. I admired the carving of markers whose owners' names had long been erased, and noted the way older markers were assembled in stacked parts, which separate from each other over time. Stones topple occasionally from their bases, more often I suspect than they are ever interfered with by the living. Wonder what that sounds like, in the stillness.

In the back of the cemetery where the oaks thin and turn to maples before the sky gradually reasserts itself, are the newer, cheaper headstones: many unadorned and flush with the grass, occasionally an older one belonging to a lost infant, markers no doubt purchased with the help of a priest after a hurried, sorrowing baptism. And then most of the dates are from the 1970s and 80s, when the vogue for money spent on the dead had begun to fade -- church funerals gradually being replaced by services held right in the funeral homes themselves. These stones are a little depressing, held down they seem by the weight of the sky itself, shelterless; like so many pavers in the courtyard before the Father's mansions.

But I do so love it there. And the sense of peace I had there lingered well into the day.

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