Week #24 – Tombstones

tis the season by Coleen Shin

Equilibrium by Nicolette Wong

For Julien Tatham

Heroine

The morning puts on a translucent blue coat, held for it by broken rays of sun. I draw loneliness on charcoal paper for her to unravel. Now unbounded, with a conquering violence, she bleeds open in my hand.

Drawing

The day is spent, unlucky in smoke and rain. On my path are silent lives breathing in cells: in buildings, rooms and compartments in the minds of strangers. Traces of her are blurring in my coat pocket—I cannot hold her.

* * *

Equilibrium

I shift in between the repercussions of her voice, cold and unyielding like the sleep of stone. An image of her multiplies and rushes down memories: her handwriting on a cigarette box, my waking up to a room of mist, to a nip on her little morsel of flesh.

* * *

Stones

The story is scorching. Falling down ashen as the tip of the pencil breaks. It invades my present: a pair of tombstones in a faraway place, dew on wet grass, treading on softness until all is oblivion.

It should be so easy to give up.

* * *

Flame

In the darkened room the flame penetrates and is gone.

 
Elspeth by Tom Allman

Deep in the Old Forest there was a forgotten graveyard. The weathered and broken tombstones were scattered like so many broken teeth. It was the quietest place on Earth.

But, on the first day of spring a troop of tiny homunculi jump and frolic around a lonely marble monolith. Nut brown and as big as a whisper they were a gift for the daughter of a forgotten Wizard. He’d made them from the good earth and her tears.

“Oh Elspeth” they sang, “Walk with us to Silvery Stream and dance amongst the daffodils.” A friendly breeze would stir the gentle Willow. Then all was quiet once again.

 
Interment by Catherine Russell

Agatha’s tiny grave fit her perfectly. The pink box protected the contents of her body from the assault of elements and scavenging animals. Birds would not peck her innards to line nests, crows would not steal her bright button eyes, and her cotton skin would not degrade from rain and snow.

The family, clad in mourning, assembled in the backyard to witness the somber event of Agatha’s interment. Molly’s little brother sniggered but quickly hushed with a look from his mother. The girl recited a short prayer and placed Agatha in a Hello Kitty shoe-box, then lowered it into the hole. She threw daisies over the top before using her plastic beach shovel to cover the cardboard coffin. The deed done, everyone left except for one small mourner.

Molly planted a white cross on the grave and prayed again, hoping the funeral would be enough to put Agatha’s spirit to rest. Without a priest, she didn’t know if the doll would find her way out again. The girl shivered.

She knew she shouldn’t have used the doll to play tug of war with the puppy. If she did come back, Agatha would never forgive her.

From the back window, the puppy watched them bury her newest treat. She wondered if it was a bone.

 
The Days of The Olde Burying Yard by Doug Bond

On the short walk from school we scuffed our shoes through dry leaves. I kicked a pumpkin in the gutter down a hill. At the graveyard, Mrs. Denson showed us how to hold the paper against the stones and rub from the center out using the long side of the crayon, not the pointed tip.

I’d been held back to do 5th grade again, so I knew how it worked and showed some kids. The place had been holding dead bodies for over 300 years. I said to Cindy to follow me, I’d show her the best one.

At the far corner, almost off in the woods, I found it, the one that had the poem. There were black chestnuts lying rotted all around.

“Phennias Jessup” is his name. “That’s his death’s head scroll, an hourglass, bats, spirals and angel’s wings on either side of the top part of the stone. That’s called the tympanum.”

Cindy had short blond braids and black buckle shoes. I told her to rub the stone so we could read the words.

From youth and vigor soon he fled
And here he rests among ye dead
Uncertain here we draw our breath
How soon we pass from life to death.

“Cindy, Phennias Jessup was only 9 years old, and here we are standing on top of his head!”

She screamed at me and stomped up the hill to tell Mrs. Denson. When they headed back down I ran away flapping my arms with the wind.

 
There You Are by Martha Williams

It’s like a waterfall, the cascade of names. The busiest time is always evening, when Clara can’t keep up with the words as they’re washed away in a tsunami of messages. As if these are really her friends.

As if.

When did they last press warm flesh together? When did they last look into each other’s eyes? How many even made it to Marty’s send-off… ten? Twenty? Not the two hundred whose avatars now stampede across her reflection, her face a rock beneath their butterfly wings. Who are they now, these long lost, truncated names surrounded by their pixelated children?

Be my friend.

Like me.

But do not phone, nor bang on my back door. Do not presume to sit and eat with me.

It wasn’t as bad with Marty, the gregarious one who drew people to their table. But after he died, perhaps she was an odd number… or just a sad one. Maybe she just noticed it more.

On the loneliest nights she’d wondered, would anyone come to her funeral? She picked her epitaph one night, half laughing, half crying. Put it in her will. A tombstone engraved with a hand, pointing down, and the words, “Oh, there you are!”

Tonight, she neither smiles nor cries. Just sits, slumped, as the names flicker across her skin. By the end, she figured she’d be lucky to get five.

Assuming, of course, that anyone even finds her.

 
Stone by Linda Simoni-Wastila

Every day Man shuffles through Land of Stones hunched over his stick. Bright-Eyes chitters loud and scrambles down Oak. My tail twitches, alert. Hungry. Sun scared away Rainclouds and the acorns are small and hard. Bright-Eyes hides them in our secret nooks anyway, for the kits who will come after Snow.

Bright-Eyes looks thin perched on top of Stone. Man hobbles slowly. He looks thin, too. When he arrives, Bright-Eyes scampers behind the tree, waiting. Man stops, leans on his stick, and sighs. He stares at Stone. He waters Earth with his eyes.

“Carol,” he says. “I miss you.”

His hand plunges into his skin, grey like Sky. Seeds shower the yellowed grass. Bright-Eyes dashes out, filling his cheeks with corn and nuts. Blue Jay swoops down from the branch for his share. Man watches with sad eyes, then leaves.

Every morning Man sprinkles his Water and Seed before Stone. Bright-Eyes lines our nest with fallen leaves. Sky turns black and blows cold. Bright-Eyes brings me acorns but does not eat. My belly swells.

White arrives. Man does not visit. We wait and wait. Still Man does not come. White piles higher than Stone. Bright-Eyes returns with the last acorn. He gives it to me.

One morning, White goes away. Yellow Bird rumbles beside Oak and digs through White and Earth with his beak. Men circle around the hole, but not our Man. They fill the hole and right another Stone.

White returns. Bright-Eyes does not wake. I wait.

 
She Doesn’t Live Here by Roberta Lawson

2001

The trees on these street are magnificent. Young families with dogs and prams walk happily down it. Here – number 77 – the house she almost bought.

The rooms are large and airy. Her loom glorious in the sitting room. The overgrown garden. In her first year here, her business prospers. She acquires a boyfriend. Giddy dates, leading into a settled life. So much love. Friday night take-aways from the Indian restaurant on the corner. Saturday morning sex. Saturday afternoon Scrabble games and cinema trips. Friends laughter around the dining room table. A fat contented cat. Sunday brunches in the pub opposite. Autumn-leaf stomping in the woods down the road. The deer, the blackbirds, the quiet burial space. Sunshine picnics in the Summer, skimming stones in the river.

2011

The trees on this street are barren. Families hurry down it, huddled over prams.

Rising damp stealthily climbing the large airy rooms. Her loom neglected in the corner. The recession hit her business hard, her boyfriend’s harder. Her worries hit the relationship harder still. His drinking didn’t help. Friday night anger. Saturday morning failed attempts at reconciliation. Saturday afternoon stagnation. Quiet around the dining room table. Sunday mornings watching the football in the pub, and staring into their drinks.

Her boyfriend’s car backing away, a fat cat in the backseat.

There’s the woods down the road. The thick green trees, the lazy river. There are the deer, the blackbirds, the burial space. There’s her tombstone.

 
Matthew Says There Was an Earthquake by Katherine Nabity

“Are you sure about this?” Bill strained against the stone, pressing with his back, putting his legs into the effort. His stubby wings got in the way.

“Certain,” said Harold. “It was on the work docket. I figured after the Garden incident, we should take initiative.”

“You didn’t mistake the cherub docket and the cherubim docket again, did you?” On paper, fat little putti-cherubs were always being mistaken for ferocious, four-winged cherubim.

“Nope. I’m sure,” said Harold.

With a grunt, the stone moved an inch more.

“Why are we supposed to be opening this tomb anyway?” Bill couldn’t see Harold shrug.

“Heave!” Harold gasped.

The tombstone rolled, and Bill and Harold tumbled into the tomb. Bill’s sense of accomplishment was diminished only slightly when he saw that The Man inside the tomb had been the helping hand. Bill recognized him immediately.

“Oh, sir! I didn’t realize–!”

The Man smiled, kindly but quizzically.

“Behold!”

With the word, the earth outside the tomb shook. Bill peaked around the stone and there was Adair, bellowing, all four of his wings arrogantly shedding. Beyond Adair’s radiance, two women and one of The Man’s scribes fled when they saw the stone rolled away.

“You two!” The cherubim kept his voice to a dull roar. “My earthquake was supposed to–” Adair fell silent when The Man stepped past Bill and Harold.

“Sir!” Adair stammered. “I didn’t realize–!”

The Man smiled again, shrugged, and disappeared in glory.

 
Vestiges by Randal Houle

The Earth is stone, laid bare under an endless sky. All else is rotting flesh and vegetation.

BURIED HERE: THIS DATE AND TIME.

The sod conceals what remains while my tombstone festers, obscured by the surrounding grass. The trees shroud this corner of the cemetery in shadowy stillness. It is a peaceful place of reflection.

Under the loam, a corpse wastes away, feeds the feral growth above while the forgotten granite putrefies in a dense layer of grime, overgrown lawn, and mold.

Even the fruit from the nearby orchard (which I, in part, nourish) batters my stone to rot.

The sinister weight of filth and soil and stillness smothers his voice under all decay and I have lost my sight, my way to the world. The stonework is blind. It is concealed, masked in an unkempt prairie

The familiar has passed, but there are others now, separated by time, bound by genetic duty, or of curiosity.

It has been so long – those early visitors have joined the corpse somewhere. There are still others – if only I could be found. They may trim the grass and scrub the stone with a stiff brush and soapy water. Then I will see the sky again.

 

Back to Wk #23 – Long lines

Forward to Wk #25 – Least favorite


2 Responses to “Week #24 – Tombstones

  1. […] are EIGHTY-EIGHT and THERE YOU ARE so I’m a very happy bunny to be part of […]

  2. Nicolette,
    What a beautiful poetic piece. No wonder it’s featured in the ‘Best of.’ :)

    Tom,
    I remember reading this when it was first posted. It reminds me of Tolkien, so lushly descriptive and ethereal.

    Doug,
    I can just imagine that field trip and the little boy flapping his arms. Wonderful.

    Martha,
    This one made me so sad, especially the ending, but it also rang very true.

    Linda,
    I’ve already commented in the ‘Frequent Flashers’ section on this one, but I really love it.

    Roberta,
    Putting the two times parellel really worked well in this, gave it a strong effect. Nicely done!

    Matthew,
    Love this more every time I read it.

    Randal,
    This one really speaks to me. People imo tend to think of the stones left behind as lasting, but so many times when I visit cemeteries (one of my favorite places) I see them toppled or overgrown or the letters so worn you can’t read them. It makes me sad, and you’ve captured that feeling so perfectly.

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