I've just come from the mountaintop, chilly and verbose. This will need work. Also, my camera has lost its mind or its energy or both, so I can't look at the pictures of the tombstones to confirm some of this.
HUFFMAN CEMETERY, LOONEY, VIRGINIA
Why do they put them on the mountaintops?
Further from hell, I guess, or closer to heaven,
they hope. Further up
than the real town, further than the trees
that nod like geishas,
up where the wind whips.
A deadly place:
they make you wear dress shoes,
then send you tottering into the sod.
The wind whips, and you wonder
how many people catch their death
at someone else’s burial.
Here’s the stone I’m looking for:
Frank Looney. Dollar signs flank the legend
HIS GOD ON EARTH
LIFE WAS A LUXURY,
VEXATION AND VANITY
Who put this man to such uneasy rest?
Couldn’t be Maude, slumbering, overgrown,
at his feet, dead fifty years before him.
He seems alone otherwise, though the settlement
bears his name—vanity, maybe,
but surely not luxury.
There is no one here to ask. Farther up,
by the gravel road, lies the man who did the burying.
That same man, ten months ago,
was called from his bed
to bring the gurney across the road
to take what small parcel
my mother left behind.
A scant two months after,
he was gone, laid under granite, sharp-lettered,
just uphill from his son, who buried my father
eight years before Mom and died two months before—
one of her last stories, to me, the tale
of the wreck that took him.
He was my age, left a new wife,
no children. Father and son
with their customers: who will bury
the rest of us?
Saddest are the small stones with their lambs,
worn to near-anonymity. They mark
the ones who lived a February day.
Loretta’s day was four before I began
my grateful slog. I once knew
a Loretta my age, a snaggle-toothed
cocktail girl who brought mai tais
to my boyfriend and me,
when we were all eighteen.
Such unspoken things:
like praying with your eyes open,
never sure what to do
when you meet another’s open eyes.