The abandoned cemetery isn’t far
from here though you might think so,
looking at all the tidy houses and
trimmed yards which line this street:
But you should have learned by now
how masks reveal their wearers,
the pearled surface of happiness
cursed by old eyes staring through.
Duration is just a ruse; if you
stick around you’ll see it falter
like a bone chewed too long:
the mask’s edges start to droop
from saggy cords and then
you’re face to skull with
full moonlight after 3 a.m.,
a face beaming eternal night.
What this town has become
in the uneven ravages of time
is a place drained even of place—
everything carnal and spiritual
attracted elsewhere, amped to
big-box blickerbulbs of not:
cities, malls, celebrities,
channels, devices, rot.
A place existing on but that’s all,
just as empty as the lost boneyard
without the peace of the forgotten
& carrying the curse it crossed.
Is there a principle which states
that the meek inherit Earth?
Do the fallen places in this country—
ruined miles of working-class Detroit,
the Chicago morgue receiving all
the bodies of the murdered,
ridded with our glut of bullets
bursting from fear’s silo—:
Do those places whisper slowly
ever more loudly our collective fate
creeping in with its king tide
inexorably over us all?
Does an abandoned cemetery echo
in our sleep in a language that in waking
to the next day sounds like static on
a radio almost tuning to a song?
And when you drive those last streets home
on your daily commute from work,
doesn’t the light, unrolled now in
autumn foil, seem not so much golden
as gilt now sere, like sunlight passing
through the top leagues of abyss,
the way a burnt page looks a
hundred nights after you found it?
Over in the cemetery, death is a head
hunched below earthen shoulders
like a long-collapsed pumpkin,
forest litter covering the markers,
palmettos fanning twenty feet high.
Healing over as nature must because
only we must not forget death
then mask it with all our might.
No one’s even seen the graveyard
for fifty years, not since the black church
was moved to make way for the highway
which was moved away from town—
the groves grew thicker and then froze
and then were cut down, clay and sand
mauled out for the highway project &
idle now, waiting for development.
How could any place be more desolate
than wherever those old black bodies lie
aside from my home street in this
my late perhaps last home town,
charming enough as masks will do
while inside the living stare at TVs
changing after infinite channel,
wondering why there’s nothing to see?
In 1959 an African-Amerian church was moved from atop the knoll in the background to make room for a highway. There’s a cemetery still up there, lost in the brush. Stoneybrook Plaza with its Publix supermarket (left) was built around 2010.