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(Har Nebo Cemetery, Philadelphia)

Counting comes easy:

two here, two there,

my mother’s small sis in the Child

Garden; my grandmother far from her

husband near a cousin long dead

in her thirties, still angry

the planned double plot

was resold.

It’s talk that’s turned viscous, on these less

and less frequent visits. They question

me stiffly in sepia, even

the one I never met, the spruce pol

perched on his chair like a

falcon, lapel fob and boater parked

rakishly in the sole surviving


What can I tell them, I wonder, that’s

not a betrayal, as I stumble

slumped ground and avoid

standing water, still moving forward

though for them forward’s stopped. Each time

the gap widens, there’s more and less

to say. They’ve become like

their headstones

rigid, angular, with mute mineral

eyes. It’s shaman work, speaking with

ancestors: slippery, uncertain.

Perhaps the genes answer. Perhaps it’s

enough, in bright sun with a crisp

fall breeze combing the grass

and white puffball clouds sailing past

to show up.

Poetica Magazine (Spring 2012); reprinted in Watered Colors (2014)

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