Settlers' Gravestones, Millersburg, Ohio

There is no poem like a gravestone,

that tersely worded, lapidary tercet,


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.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.


The latest from america

Venezuelan migrants walk across the border from Venezuela into the Brazilian city of Pacaraima. (CNS photo/Nacho Doce)
About 5,000 people leave Venezuela every day. According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, at least 1.9 million Venezuelan citizens have left the country since 2015, fleeing from the economic and political crisis that the country is experiencing under President Nicolás Maduro.
Filipe DominguesOctober 22, 2018
Sexual orientation by itself is irrelevant to child sexual abuse. The risk factors include impulse control problems and substance abuse, and offenders take advantage of situations in which they are trusted.
Thomas G. PlanteOctober 22, 2018
“Jesus finds people where they are, but he never leaves them where they are.”
Gerard O’ConnellOctober 22, 2018
Paddy Considine in ‘The Ferryman’ (photo: Joan Marcus)
In the fallen world of “The Ferryman,” conflict and compromise poison everything.
Rob Weinert-KendtOctober 22, 2018