Friday, September 29, 2023

Imagine the Words

Aug. 2, 1933
Mar. 12, 1937
Gone to be
another angel
Radford Cemetery, Radford, VA
Photo by Amy LV

Wm. Harless
Mar. 6, 1936
May 30, 1939
Gone to be
an angel
Radford Cemetery, Radford, VA
Photo by Amy LV

And here you can listen to the talented musician and English professor, my friend Gart Westerhout. He has turned this short poem into a lovely and haunting song. I am always grateful and moved when another artist interprets my poems and helps me understand them even more.

Students - I am a taphophile, a person who is interested in graves and cemeteries, and right now I am taking a fabulous class about reading gravestones as well as reading A TOMB WITH A VIEW: THE STORIES & GLORIES OF GRAVEYARDS by Peter Ross. Ross writes, "If the imagination is a muscle, graveyards are a gym. I'd look at the names and wonder. Did John Barnes, Hairdrresser, who died aged sixty-seven in January 1891, ever, in his youth, take comb and scissors to Ebenezer Gentleman, who died at Christmas 1868 and whose crooked stone lies just a step or two away?"

This week I took a trip to visit our daughter Hope. Among many other things, she and I walked through the West View Cemetery in Radford, VA where I took the photographs of gravestones and wondered about young Martha Ann and William who each died at three years old, both over 80 years ago. In their grief, Martha Ann and William's families had gravestones made, and each family chose a dove, the symbol of ressurrection, innocence, and peace.

Invisible conversations and history swirls all around us. For today's short poem, I simply imagined what these parents might say when talking with a stonecutter. While writing, I was reminded of one poem my Great Aunt Tom copied into one of her notebooks. That poem is in the voice of a parent asking God to brush their daughter's hair a certain way. (When I find this notebook, I will add it here.) This poem is one line from a conversation I imagine between grieving parents and a stonecutter. The title defines the conversation, lets the reader know who is speaking to whom.

Look closely at the words below the dates on each gravestone above. I am wondering something else. Do you think that Martha Ann's parents added the words Gone to be another angel after reading William's stone Gone to be an angel? This part of the carving on Martha Ann's stone does not match the rest of her stone but does match the font on William's stone. Could Martha Ann's parents have seen William's grave and said, "Let's add such angelic words to our daughter's stone." It could be so. Or not. We will never know.

Beneath every gravestone is a story. And most person-made items we see and hold stand on stories too. While we may not know these stories, we can imagine them and write from our imaginings. Walk around in a familiar or unfamiliar place and ask yourself some questions:

What may have happened here?
How was this made?
What conversation might have happened around this object?
What feelings are held in this thing?
Are there hidden words somewhere here?
What DON'T I see or know about this object?
Is there something invisible happening here?
What could the history be?

Write the answers to your questions down. Perhaps one of them will grow into a story or a poem or an essay. Perhaps you will learn something new from something old. If you wish, let your poem be just one snip of conversation as mine is here. 

Cemeteries are not scary to me. They are, as many say, like libraries...full of stories and lives gone by.

Jama is hosting this week's Poetry Friday roundup today at Jama's Alphabet Soup with poems by Scottish poet Helena Nelson. Each Friday, all are invited to share poems, poem books, poetry ideas, and friendship in this open and welcoming poetry community.

This week, my hope for you is that something invisible will show itself to you.



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  1. I have this book! Like many, I find cemeteries rather peaceful and comforting. My sister lives next door to one and she says they are the best neighbors yet. xo

  2. Such a thoughtful poem about wee Harless Mabry. I used to work in a city, and across the street lied an old burial ground, surrounded on three sides by tall buildings. It was such a peaceful place and an interesting juxtaposition to its surroundings.

  3. Cemeteries are indeed fascinating places -- as you say, full of history and stories. Tragic to see the gravestones of children; your poem is so touching.

  4. The Cemetery where my husband is is near me, & near the school where I taught. I took students there more than once to study the tombstones, the names & dates, trying to connect the dates with the history we knew or that we found, like a particular epidemic, flu or polio, for example. They also made grave rubbings & wrote poems in remembrance to accompany them. There is such history to know, to imagine as you so lovingly did, Amy. I don't know the book but I will look for it for sure! Thank you!

  5. My MANY connections for me in this post. I'm glad you got to spend some quality time in VA. Radford is a gorgeous place. Our daughter attended RU and her besties, VT. Such a poignant poem is fitting for this corner of VA.

  6. I live in an historic city with a lot of cemeteries. When I read the stones, I try to imagine the person and the life they may have led. It is especially sad to see stones with names of young children. Thank you for this very touching post, Amy. xo

  7. Oops! Somehow my name didn't show, but the last comment was from me.

  8. "Invisible conversations and history swirls all around us." YES! How fascinating that you are a taphophile. You never cease to amaze!

  9. Oh, Amy, your beautiful attention to detail re. the possible addition on Martha's gravestone! What a beautiful lesson for young writers this is. (Well, for all writers, really. :))