I’ve several friend and relatives in Alabama graveyards. I wrote a novel about one. The first poem is about a man after service in war. The second is about my grandmother, Willie Mae.
- Alabama Graveyard
He confronted Life with antique Courage
And Death with Christian Hope.
-James Louis Petigru (1789-1863) gravestone
They come in April and in May
On their church Decoration Day
To our garden behind the gate.
We’re just a mess back here,
Tangled up in honeysuckle, wisteria
Fallen clumps of Spanish moss
Beside a warm, dripping spring.
It makes them happy to clean us up.
And we let them. We’re a passive bunch
But for one.
The young private beside me
With the tawny mustache died at 19
Tending Yankees at Castle Morgan.
He caught the chill one hot day
And was laid low. Real low.
As I hear him tell it he was never one
To let the moss grow too long
Under his poorly shod feet.
When the people come to clean him up
I can tell he’s mortified.
When fire ants start biting the workers.
I know he’s fussed.
I hear him. But I like the visit.
I bless the hands that fix the space.
For the nourishment of all our bodies
In accordance with Baptist liturgy.
Some come to please their parents.
Some to honor the soldiers.
Some to enjoy time outside.
Some to continue healthy grief.
But there’s one among the living
Hollowed out and dead. His visits
Are colder than my own dusty heart.
Cleaning us up is mighty nice
Unless you’re coveting my grave as yours.
Sir, can you not see we’re not like that?
We’re dead, but not dead like you.
We were killed in action by
Good Christian men.
“Onward Christian soldiers!”
We didn’t commit slow-motion suicide.
(Except for Jedidiah over there.
That was a botched job
He’s still embarrassed about.)
What robber steals your life each day
So that even I can see you’re dead?
Are you Prometheus? Attacked each day?
Or just a man giving up?
Sir, even I can sense you have a spirit there
Buried under all that junk. Can you find it?
Does it yearn for the yawp of that little boy
Flicking his wrist, speeding his lure,
Into that wide place in the spring
Like the seasoned fisherman he is?
No? Maybe that’s just me.
The dead can project too.
Dear Sir the committee of the dead
Asked me to ask you to keep
Your cold clammies to yourself.
When you reach onto my grave
It even gets me fussed.
Your living death is contagious.
The wind blows through what hair you have left
Calling you to remember your prayers.
Peace. Joy. Love.
What cannot be taken away
In this world or the next.
You pray. You church.
You go on about God for hours.
And each year you show up
Deader than the last.
By the river, near the church
Under the rich green moss
Even the dead can see:
Your dusty heart is
Drenched in the Gospel
But parched for grace.
Instead of clearing the honeysuckle
Stop. Drink the nectar.
Taste that life is sweet.
Leave our graves to God.
Wash off our dust in artesian wells
That still bubble life.
All is not lost. There’s still time.
And an eternity of joy.
For God’s sake, and ours.
(c) 2013 Allegra Jordan
Orange candy cakes and a soft
Southern accent call me to come,
Sit, and talk. No trouble too big.
Iced tea and bright white hair.
Plenty of sugar to make children
Sweeter. As if that were possible.
I do not remember our meeting,
But our parting came under an
Alabama sky the blue of her eyes.
A gentle wind blew that day,
Perhaps from a gate left open
To the golden fields of God.
(c) 2004 Allegra Jordan.