Settlers' Gravestones, Millersburg, Ohio

There is no poem like a gravestone,

that tersely worded, lapidary tercet,

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the name, the numbers, and the R.I.P.

that are the skeleton key to all biography.

Some lie embedded, trapdoors in the grass,

while others rear their monumental

cornices and angels, like cathedrals

where worms receive the body’s bread and wine.

The purest poetry’s in settlers’ gravestones,

the kind you find in small Ohio towns

named for the clan that cleared the woods

and staked their claim by planting loved

ones in the ground like fenceposts. These are names

the rain has made a thousand rubbings of.

It takes a second to subtract in your head

the birth year from the death year and discover

the old, old names like Fannie and Pearl

died when they were three years old.

It’s only the stone’s

sense of timing and command of tone

that lets you glimpse them in their frocks and curls

scurrying down these mouseholes to the underworld.

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