Quietly and while at rest on the trim grass I have gazed,
admonished myself for having never been here
at the graveside and read the names of my Time Wanderers.
And now, the light noise of the children at play on the inscribed stone
jars my ear and they whisper and laugh covering their mouths. "My Darling"
my daughter reads, some of the markers
reflect such lightness to her reading eyes, yea, as I rove
among these polished and lime blocks I am moved to tears and I hear
the depth in "Darling, we love thee," and as in "Safe in Heaven."
I am going off to heaven and I won't see you anymore. I am
going back into the country and I won't be here anymore.I am
going to die in 1937. But where did you die my Wanderer?
You, under the grave grass, with the tin standard whereat
I look, and try to read the blurred ink. I cannot believe
you were slighted knowing what I do of cost and evil
yet tin is less than granite. Those who buried you should have known
a 6 inch square of sandstone, flush with the earth
is more proper for the gone than blurred and faded flags.
Than the blurred and faded flags I am walking with in the graveyard.
Across the road in the strawberry field two children are stealing
their supper fruit, abreast in the rows, in the fields of the overlord,
Miller is his authentic name, and I see that name represented here,
there is that social side of burial too, long residence,
and the weight of the established local dead. My eyes avoid
the largest stone, larger than the common large, Goodpole Matthews,
Pioneer, and that pioneer sticks in me like a wormed black cherry
in my throat, No Date, nothing but that zeal, that trekking
and Business, that presumption in a sacred place, where children
are buried, and where peace, as it is in the fields and the country
should reign. A wagon wheel is buried there. Lead me away
to the small quiet stones of the unpreposterous dead and leave
me my tears for Darling we love thee, for Budded on earth and blossomed
in heaven, where the fieldbirds sing in the fence rows,
and there is possibility, where there are not the loneliest of all.
Oh, the stones not yet cut.
Edward Dorn, Burlington, Washington, June 1958, from Hands Up! (1964)
This long-line poem, a country graveyard elegy precipitated by Dorn's tour with his stepdaughter Chansonette of the Burlington cemetery -- "the first break into it, out of a candor of short metre," as he wrote to Charles Olson at the time -- marked for him a stylistic turning, and with it brought a new sense of "the possibility of poetry...[as an] expansion of much air and tears... a grasping toward nothing, elaborated by descriptives."
Clouds over hills, Washington: photo by Victor Szalvay, 2006