Monday, September 15, 2008

A bi-yearly ritual

We go to the cemetery every year on Paul's deathday and his birthday. I always dread it -- probably because it punches me with that jolt of reality right into my gut -- and yet, afterward, I always say to myself that I should go more often. Of course I don't. Twice a year is all I can take. The rest of the year I still let my mind think magically and imaginatively about the boy I miss so much.

Three Cemeteries

On a cool, sunny day in Normandy
the breeze does not disturb
the graves at the American Cemetery.
No matter where you stand,
looking diagonally, horizontally,
or straight back and forth,
each alabaster white grave marker
each chiseled engraving
is in perfect precision
and symmetry
as far as the eye can see.
The grass covering the graves
mowed just the right height
a shade of green
from a Technicolor garden.
The surroundings –
a rectangular reflection pool
the curved wall inscribed with the names
of 1,557 Americans missing in action,
the center bronze statue commemorating
the spirit of American youth,
and the Omaha Beach below –
create a restful setting
for the 10,000 allied soldiers
killed in 1943 or 44
during World War II.

On a gray, rainy day
in Prague,
hordes of tourists stroll
through the Jewish cemetery.
Their feet crunch
the brown and yellow leaves
covering the ground.
Housing 800,000 graves –
some over 12 layers deep –
this cemetery, not functional since 1787,
on the verge of collapse.
The packed gravestones lean
every which way
in a hodgepodge of rectangular, square,
and triangular shapes
so old, so worn and broken
the Hebrew or Yiddish markings
are hardly readable.
Just like the Jews
who were forced to live
crammed together in
the Prague ghetto,
these gravestones want
to escape the barriers
that keep the visitors and vandals out.

On a stormy day
in Los Angeles
we drive through the gates
of Hillside Cemetery
and curve around the drive
to the back wall
and a small plot
of miniature flat rectangular
gray and black marble gravestones
that lay flush
with the closely cropped grass.
Full sun interrupts the downpour
just long enough
for us to kneel
at our son’s grave
on his December 31st birthday,
wipe away the raindrops,
leave a smooth black stone,
and four yellow roses
and allow our tears to fall.

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