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Gravediggers' April

In winter we comfort our dead with talk.
We entertain them with our idle gossip.
We whisper the news while our breath freezes.
We line up at the storage shed where their bodies lie
Awaiting the great thaws of uncertain spring.
We tell them how the frost was dark this year
And steep, how business perked up at the quarries,
What happened to those botanists after the avalanche . . .

The padlock on their door is lumpy
With a blackened ice
But our damp spurts of breath revive
The grieving hinges. Murmurous petals of frost
Cloud the numbed metal.
And quicker now,
More hurried, as the whisperers file
Behind the convenience store:
How a yellow stray
Littered beneath the baptistry and defiled the stones
And was drowned with all her brood, how Coleman saw
Crows build nests of unknown wood in the old foundry,
How hailstones fell for three days laced with blood . . .

It's comforting to chat even if
No answers return. The winter shapes our words.
The widower drinks, the widow squeezes shut
Her eyes, imagining the bluish stain
Corruption spreads across a loved complexion.
Come back! they whisper, I'm lonesome here without you!
But then, as the winter drags, I'm glad you're there
At last . . . where I can love you finally . . .

Beyond the door they lie
Snug in their salt till spring. Some prefer
The new crematory in Schenectady but for most
Of us, winter is unthinkable without
The long peace of our conversations.

In April, when the gravediggers return
Staggering, soused to the gills, on overtime,
And the black lock thaws into rusty rain
And they bear them out through the open shed
Into the flowering cemetery,

Then we can mourn.


-Eric Ormsby


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