I walked among the graves alone
except for those dead names
collected in the whisper-basket for my tongue.
Crossing muddy easements, my face slicked with fine rain
that brought cologne’s scent like wine & citrus off my skin,
I knew no one’s Lithia Ledford, wife of Lee;
no Sherry, Raymond, Eric & Baby Quails;
not a single Irvin Bell, infant, son of Erma Jean.
I met them, faded images enshrined in frames:
Lewis Benson, Elsey Lamar, James Everett Eudy
the third, the fourth & the fifth.
Were you there to witness their Civil War memorials,
their fragile elephants carved like marble teddy bears,
to count their dates & read their names aloud with me—
Mrs. Lazano, Hope running, Rev. Ronald Lovinggood—
you would have welcomed love into your breath.
Distant, your name waited in twilit West Virginia,
surrounded by graves for rivers, shifting plates
that have no names we know, their monuments
extending to the clouds. Still, I praised your name,
Love, strolling through the cemetery dark.
It was the voice of reason in my head,
the voice of remembering
as though I held your hand & led you
from that silence, voice absence
of your name, my name, their whispers.
—from Rattle #21, Summer 2004