Poetry International Poetry International
Poem

Deryn Rees-Jones

The Cemetery

The Cemetery

The Cemetery

I’ve learnt to run, like an adult learns to sing,
the arpeggios of the body’s muscles,
the biomechanics of the human scale,
forcing a life to be suddenly spoken,
a finger pressed to an ivory key, a note that issues
from an opened mouth, as if God or the gods
were already there, endorphins pulsing through the system,
the body’s flux when contained in movement,
your hard-earned place in the world
on hold; I\'ve learnt to take tarmac under my shoe,
to feel the spark between muscle and sinew
pushing the globe on its tilted axis,
the rib cage and its nesting heart,
ventricular walls and the pump of oxygen,
the flexion-extension of shoulder and arm
as you travel through light and a briskness of shadow,
suddenly animal, curious, terrible,
just for a moment never-grown old. . . .

It’s the cemetery I run through now,
the snow-littered pathways of ordered mayhem,
the furnishings of its strange allotment,
recording angels, bears, dogs, gnomes,
a broken vase, a fading wreathe, a votive candle
snow’s snuffed out, Our Lady of Suburbia,
a rosary entwined in sculpted fingers,
propped beside a smiling Buddha, a paper blue
chrysanthemum wilting in his hand.

Yet, through the wreckage of doggerel,
on marble, on granite, through the hum of cars
on the circling road, through the cool swathes of air
on this mist-hung morning,
a blackbird opens its feathery throat
pulling the sky and skyline closer
so hedgerow and barbed wire and railing,

the crunch of my footsteps on glistening paths,
rise up together, clash and unite,

when suddenly I stumble, hit the ground,
become myself stretched out among the graves,
the frost, a plot of orange dirt. Slumped beside me
shouldered by a gravestone,
ice keeping death alive, a woman’s ruined body,
pierced with an arrow like a fallen bird.
What is it like to know death so slowly,
hair and fingernails still growing
like Lizzie Siddall’s in the grave?
What is it like — the presence of absence —
the space you keep in that clenched right hand?

It’s a body I know from snapshots, old albums
carrying histories, other lives, other selves.
William and Mara. Mara and Will.
There at the mouth, carved like a seraph’s,
a dash, a dart, an outpost of blood.
Her eyes are ash-pits in saintly expression
like Christ’s on the cross in an incense-fuelled church,
or that woman of sorrows — the mother, the lover—?
a flash like lightning in her crow-dark hair.

I think of her now, the twist of flesh
on her stripped lean torso, remember a smile,
a forthright look. I pick myself up
and my stomach retches;
I dizzy, double over, then throw up.
The movie I’m in is black and white.
I note an absence of birdsong, the moan of the thaw.
Then the soundtrack arrests.
Was I wrong, then, I wonder, remembering this,
how a voice from on high chastens us, comforts us.

Everything’s still.
Close

The Cemetery

I’ve learnt to run, like an adult learns to sing,
the arpeggios of the body’s muscles,
the biomechanics of the human scale,
forcing a life to be suddenly spoken,
a finger pressed to an ivory key, a note that issues
from an opened mouth, as if God or the gods
were already there, endorphins pulsing through the system,
the body’s flux when contained in movement,
your hard-earned place in the world
on hold; I\'ve learnt to take tarmac under my shoe,
to feel the spark between muscle and sinew
pushing the globe on its tilted axis,
the rib cage and its nesting heart,
ventricular walls and the pump of oxygen,
the flexion-extension of shoulder and arm
as you travel through light and a briskness of shadow,
suddenly animal, curious, terrible,
just for a moment never-grown old. . . .

It’s the cemetery I run through now,
the snow-littered pathways of ordered mayhem,
the furnishings of its strange allotment,
recording angels, bears, dogs, gnomes,
a broken vase, a fading wreathe, a votive candle
snow’s snuffed out, Our Lady of Suburbia,
a rosary entwined in sculpted fingers,
propped beside a smiling Buddha, a paper blue
chrysanthemum wilting in his hand.

Yet, through the wreckage of doggerel,
on marble, on granite, through the hum of cars
on the circling road, through the cool swathes of air
on this mist-hung morning,
a blackbird opens its feathery throat
pulling the sky and skyline closer
so hedgerow and barbed wire and railing,

the crunch of my footsteps on glistening paths,
rise up together, clash and unite,

when suddenly I stumble, hit the ground,
become myself stretched out among the graves,
the frost, a plot of orange dirt. Slumped beside me
shouldered by a gravestone,
ice keeping death alive, a woman’s ruined body,
pierced with an arrow like a fallen bird.
What is it like to know death so slowly,
hair and fingernails still growing
like Lizzie Siddall’s in the grave?
What is it like — the presence of absence —
the space you keep in that clenched right hand?

It’s a body I know from snapshots, old albums
carrying histories, other lives, other selves.
William and Mara. Mara and Will.
There at the mouth, carved like a seraph’s,
a dash, a dart, an outpost of blood.
Her eyes are ash-pits in saintly expression
like Christ’s on the cross in an incense-fuelled church,
or that woman of sorrows — the mother, the lover—?
a flash like lightning in her crow-dark hair.

I think of her now, the twist of flesh
on her stripped lean torso, remember a smile,
a forthright look. I pick myself up
and my stomach retches;
I dizzy, double over, then throw up.
The movie I’m in is black and white.
I note an absence of birdsong, the moan of the thaw.
Then the soundtrack arrests.
Was I wrong, then, I wonder, remembering this,
how a voice from on high chastens us, comforts us.

Everything’s still.

The Cemetery

Sponsors
Gemeente Rotterdam
Nederlands Letterenfonds
Stichting Van Beuningen Peterich-fonds
Ludo Pieters Gastschrijver Fonds
Hendrik Muller fonds
Lira fonds
J.E. Jurriaanse
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Partners
LantarenVenster – Verhalenhuis Belvédère