i chose this to be the second poem to post on my new/revised website because it means a great deal to me and one of my favorites.
These poems will be appearing quite frequently as i restock the archives after the web-hosting crash took them all away.
For those who do not know, i worked at the Cedar Grove Cemetery for the City of Lebanon Public Works Department (Thank you, Jessie Coe). i dug graves, mowed, trimmed around gravestones, and performed other tasks in the summers during my high school years.
Many years later when visiting my parents in Deer Park, i frequently would go on a morning run down Leeville Pike to South Maple. At the crossroads, i would decide whether to turn south or north. If south was the decision i would go on a three to six mile run down Old Murfreesboro Road and Barton’s Creek Road and back.
On those runs, i often thought of Bobby Bradley, a good friend and Eagle Scout or some high level, taking this Boy Scout Tenderfoot on a five-mile hike through the woods off of Franklin Road. It resulted in what was probably the only merit badge i earned before they shut down our troop, i suspect due to rowdiness about town after our weekly evening meetings, no fault of Bobby Bradley or Major Lindsey Donnell, our troop leader.
If i chose to turn north, i ran between the two cemeteries and often stopped at one or both to visit grave sites of family and friends with fond memories.
On one of those runs/graveside visits one morning, a funeral entourage, led by a Lebanon Police motorcycle came into view and passed me before turning left into Wilson County Memorial Gardens.
Afterwards, i resumed my run back to Deer Park thinking about my cemetery visit and the funeral procession. As i passed a small farmhouse with a garden in the side yard, the beginning of the poem popped into my head. Bu the time i reached my parents’ home, the poem was pretty complete in my head.
I still don’t know if it’s any good as poetry. It’s been rejected by periodicals several times, and i quit submitting it and others because i don’t do rejection very well.
But i do know it has a lot of me in it, and i like it.
Dawn passed the old Leeville pike
where further west in Leeville proper,
the faded yellow, wood-slatted depot the size of a three holer
stood forlornly on the old railroad bed turned pike
until sold to be a cleaned-up trinket in Fiddler’s Grove,
version of the past
at the county fairgrounds,
(also moved to bigger accommodations
across town from when i grew up and out).
Thunderheads rolled around the heavens to the east;
cool for June;
turning left on South Maple with
Old Murfreesboro Road running the other way
where the route to Chattanooga had been “thank-you-ma’ams,”
back toward town was Cedar Grove,
across the road from the county Memorial Park,
a bunch of acres dedicated to history and death
where both cemetery and park
brought any north-bound, cow-counting, road game
to a tie.
People get ready, there’s a train to Jordan
Pickin’ up passengers coast to coast.
Long before Memorial Park,
the good citizens,
fully aware of growth and potential,
moved Cedar Grove too,
moved the cemetery, bodies, caskets, monuments
to Cedar Grove with intendment
for the former graveyard
to become a church of christ
until it was intendment again
for the congregation to move
College Street Church of Christ
west to Hickory Ridge,
changing the name to College Hills
as if that made it
right with the lord.
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
In the mid-June early morning
ancestors lay in repose:
ordered rows of marble and concrete above, grave below,
adorned with plastic flowers, long term reverence,
but no less heartfelt
than in the Coolidge years when they rolled
the monolith of granite on logs,
pulled by mules and horses
from the railway for six days;
General Hatton eulogized with
the marble stele at the head of his grave
near the other marble tower honoring
to complement Hatton’s statue in square center,
built over a creek and a spring.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is stamping out the vintage where the grapes of wrath were stored.
I knew these ancestors
from pushing mowers over the graves,
trimming around the edges,
even digging their graves
in the summer heat.
Sleep in heavenly peace;
Sleep in heavenly peace.
My ancestors are here too:
kith and kin,
generations of father’s folks
are up in Statesville
behind a church
in a family plot
where Father triangulated the hills
from a photograph of his father and uncles
his grandparents’ graves
the headstone he had ordered;
In Cedar Grove, up gate three
lie Mother’s folks, grandfolks, and assorted kin
in a rectangular plot curbed off from the rest;
across the road:
later maternal and paternal kin
friends lie amongst the kin:
parents of a close friend
are honored with a big monument
at the front of the memorial park;
does he, dying foolishly in a car crash,
lie close to his mother and father?
lord help us.
I heard the wreck on the highway,
But i didn’t hear nobody pray, dear brother;
I didn’t hear nobody pray.
It is a quiet place with scarce visitors,
a place to contemplate old relationships
and what was
and what will be
and what won’t be,
in the middle of the day in the summer heat,
cheating men and women found
a haven for illicit affairs,
from which we quickly learned to steer
our mowers, clippers, and lively lads
far away if no one emerged from the car
to visit a grave:
there was another kind of visiting going on.
Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world;
Red and yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight;
Jesus loves the little children of the world.
I cannot stay long as i have duties to tend;
leaving, i notice they have torn down
the small clapboard-sided house
north of Cedar Grove on South Maple
where the old man,
mostly toothless, tobacco chewing,
slobbering the dark brown juice
down his jowl,
would sit on the porch
in the rocking chair
next to the RCA Victrola
listening to the White Sox
before he would cajole me
into taking him to town;
he knew the people and the plots
when the records burned
in the attic of the courthouse fire
so the city kept him on the dole
well into his nineties,
letting him stay in the house
so he could tell us gravediggers
where to dig,
not missing more than once or twice
when we would strike the side of a casket,
having to refill and start over
a couple of feet away
for Christ’s sake.
he is probably now somewhere
in Cedar Grove himself
with the records straight from computer technology
where no one will strike his casket
digging in the wrong place.
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.
Though i have placed
the planks to set their graves.
cut the sod,
dug through the clay with pick and shovel,
filled their graves with clods,
i am a wanderer among them;
i worship them, feel them,
but do not feel belonging;
on the east side there is a plot
where my buddy came home:
a sailor gone west to adventure, like me;
i arrived first to find nickels on his eyes in
Rosarita Beach, Baja California, Mexico,
helping his widow get the body
across the border and back home
to lay beside his father:
he came home,
but i do not quite feel i belong.
And when my task on earth is done,
When, by Thy grace, the vic-try’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave i will not flee,
Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.
On South Maple heading south
before the Leeville Pike
is a stone house set back
from the road with outbuildings,
a truck with a crane
beside the sizable vegetable garden
with corn, tomatoes, beans, onions
in not quite straight rows,
much like the obelisks and headstones
in Cedar Grove,
but growing in the brown soil,
green shoots of life
while the rabbit and the cardinal
nibble at the opposite ends of the garden:
I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
and the voice i hear falling on my ear
the son of god discloses;
and he walks with me and he talks with me
and he tells me i am his own.
Cumulus clouds hover around the horizon;
morning remains cool for June;
the funeral procession turns off Leeville Pike
headed north down Maple Street
to turn left into the memorial park
while the residents lie silently on
both sides of the road.
The tent is set;\
i know the ritual well,
i will not be a part of this burial
to stand, cap in hand, on the road side
as the hearse with headlights on
rolls on by.
Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whenever we hear that glorious Word!
Faith of our fathers, holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death.