The John Robert Doyle, Jr., Prize
Christmas morning we walked down past the grass line
at the cemetery, thinking we saw in the woods below
two headstones and a mound, in summer obscured
by brambly overflow, and it was so, names eroded,
but I could read on one:
How Many Hopes Lie Buried Here
no exclamation point, no question mark after Here,
just an acclamation, a sort of sigh, flat as the land.
And right there, I mean right then,
the animal part of me got down on all fours,
clawed at blackberry thorns and weeds
and laid out an altar: circle of pine cones,
in the middle a weathered stone;
then wintered goldenrod with three hickory nuts
on top, the beginnings of a pyramid
to honor all known and unknown divinity.
So each day I’ll place a found natural object
on the stone, make my three wishes,
the first being I want to lie with my love,
then begin the incantations
aela, aela, aela
taught by an old Cherokee making peace
(and not in monotone) so even the dog hides
and whines, ears back, when I sing that.
Don’t step on sunken places in the cemetery.
That’s my Mother speaking when I was a child,
don’t you see her, right there,
don’t you hear her predictions of disaster
resulting from such disrespect?
Those souls are in upheaval or, at best, unrest.
I’ve been to sunken places
and found the bottom holds.