Memorial Day

It is easily forgotten, year to

year, exactly where the plot is, 

though the place is entirely familiar 

a willow tree by a curving roadway    

sweeping black asphalt with tender leaves;

damp grass strewn with flower boxes, 

canvas chairs, darkskinned old ladies 

circling in draped black crepe family stones,    

fingers cramped red at the knuckles, discolored    

nails, fresh soil for new plants, old rosaries; 

  

such fingers kneading the damp earth gently down    

on new roots, black humus caught in grey hair    

brushed back, and the single waterfaucet, 

birdlike upon its grey pipe stem, 

a stream opening at its foot.

We know the stories that are told, 

by starts and stops, by bent men at strange joy    

regarding the precise enactments of their own    

gesturing. And among the women there will be    

a naming of families, a counting off, an ordering.

The morning may be brilliant; the season 

is one of brilliances sunlight through 

the fountained willow behind us, its splayed    

shadow spreading westward, our shadows westward,    

irregular across damp grass, the close-set stones.

It may be that since our walk there is faltering, 

moving in careful steps around snow-on-the-mountain,    

bluebells and zebragrass toward that place 

between the willow and the waterfaucet, the way    

is lost, that we have no practiced step there, 

and walking, our own sway and balance, fails us.

--Michael Anania, "Memorial Day" from Selected Poems