It’s too hot to sit with the dead today
so I float above them,
hanging on for dear life to the strings
of a bunch of many-colored balloons.
Up high, where the air is much cooler,
the oxygen less dense.
The vacuum of space waits hidden above me;
a black, gaping maw poised to chomp.
Death above, death below, dying in between,
one hand gripping balloon strings,
the other trying to choke down a mustard-soaked sardine sandwich.
In the distance, beyond the curve of the earth,
a thing so monumental its name cannot fit into a human ear.
In the distance, all lived pasts and livable futures.
There may be a mustard stain on my crisp, white shirt
but I’m afraid to look.
Perhaps the dead have asked me to stay away today.
It’s probably not so hot outside after all.
Bits of broken tombstone surround the tree of life, jagged little reminders that all monuments someday crack and crumble.
A speck-like spider falls from the tree of life onto my pale hand. Before it has a chance to find its own way home, I send it to the land of wet grasses on a gust of self-generated wind. I have never cared for spiders, however minuscule.
I count no less than twenty shards of gravestone and wonder if the tree of life is to blame. The tree of life, grown so large from all the now-quiet bodies if hovers over while under the bone-infested ground, the roots of life seek water.
I spy no faces upon the tree of life’s cracked and ornery skin. I only spy black ants and sick-yellow lichens.
Are the faces then underground with the roots or perhaps higher up on the trunk, well above eye-level, spied only by wandering drones or a telescoping eye from a nearby window? Are the faces then in the branches, obscured by oblique leaves?
Perhaps the tree of life has no faces at all…
Perhaps the tree of life is just a dis-envisaged voice repeating so slowly, “So happy now you’ve gone.”
MANY UNMARKED GRAVES
IN THIS AREA
WILLIAM E. CONNELLY
SURVEY OF 1895-1896
In Kansas City, we finally lost the Spring. We finally lost rebirth. The birds now arrive too late. There is an ambulance, a fire truck, a police car, a sleeping man, a city bus, a casino, and authentic Mexican food. I mistook for a woman carrying a baby a woman carrying her coat and shoes. Bare feet traipse through the cemetery grass and not one eye open for green snakes in the sun. Google says they don’t bite and I have long forgotten what my grandmother once told me about the legless. For years, the rumor in our family was that we were touched by Cherokee blood. Had my genome sequenced over Christmas and we were all made to forget many things grandma once told us about us. Remembered then that history can always be erased. History is a dandelion’s seed borne high upon a lost Spring wind. History is bone and word and point of view. My body ages and aches because of history and a lack of magic mushrooms. Walking across the curved earth our feet gather dust and pain but, after a while, we recall how to traverse over sharp objects and how to respect the dirt. In Kansas City, we leap from cold to hot and shift with the quickness from slight to shot. I dreamed I needed a history to claim a home. But what can a history be without a home to first anchor it? Grass grows where it’s allowed until it remembers its history. Nature doesn’t take sides. History does. Dandelions grow where they are needed and do you see how many dandelions there are? In the daytime, we walk over sharp, broken bones and our thick-soled shoes provide such sweet relief from constant hurt and filth but, in the end, they completely wreck our posture and we find ourselves lost between Winter and Summer, reading through our travel diaries and seeking trained hands to help us stand up straight again.
God, how I need the sun now.
I’m so weary of being indoors.
I’ve stopped wearing socks and shoes to the office.
I need to feel the worms, the shattered glass, the broken backs underneath my soft, bare feet.
I’ve disinvited myself to endless meetings, too.
Instead, I’ve taken up with sunshine,
and the the vines that run up the trees,
and the tiny graves of infant humans,
and the old ways of telling time, of measuring progress,
of being a body.
I hear you scoff from an open window, “The old ways?! The old ways?!”
But you’re not thinking old enough.
You gotta get deeper.
You gotta remember the dead,
remember the sun.
You gotta remember that hot light falling across your fat, tiny toes.
You gotta feel it, that hot light.
You gotta really feel it.
HARRIET BUTLER 1837 – 1870 AND INFANT DAUGHTER AUG – SEPT. 1870
I wonder if she killed you
and I wonder if the others’ tears
fed the city that would soon
spring up around you.
You never saw
how their sadness
turned to brick and mortar
used to hold hopes for a new life,
used to hold off a slow death,
used to hold in the last breaths
of a jaywalker’s world.
Now, you rest between two trees.
In the summer, their leaves shade you from white heat.
Two birds fight in the distance.
Oh, maybe they’re flirting.
It can be so hard to label natural inclinations.
It’s a problem to try to understand love at all
when most graves have such a common tale to tell.
White woman walks by in a Wu-Tang shirt
White feather waits above a grave unknown
An ant crawls up my pant leg, looking for life.
Tree bark is an ancient remedy for an aching back.
An alarm is sounding and a mangy squirrel
rears up on hind legs
in a curious challenge to some intuited superiority
before scurrying up a favorite trunk to bark at me
from a place of perceived safety.
More sirens sound
on 7th and Minnesota.
The squirrel forgets that many men hurl rocks and words to
maintain a silent world.
An ambulance arrives at the library.
The sirens wind down.
The squirrel gives me the finger and lights a cigarette.
I can see Missouri from here.
And I can read between these tombstones’ lines.