Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Farmer Among the Tombs

Banks/Rogers plot, Columbia Cemetery

The Farmer Among the Tombs
by Wendell Berry

I am oppressed by all the room taken up by the dead, their headstones standing shoulder to shoulder, the bones imprisoned under them.

Plow up the graveyards! Haul off the monuments! Pry open the vaults and the coffins so the dead may nourish their graves 
and go free, their acres traversed all summer
by crop rows and cattle and foraging bees.

Kentucky’s finest author and poet Wendell Berry strikes his note in this short, poignant poem. When I first read it many years ago it made me question the entire busine$$ of death and also the impact of these cemeteries on our precious land. Whether it is burial or cremation, these last rites provide enduring rituals that help to sanctify a person’s life.

It is a deeply personal decision for an individual or family to make. No right or wrong answer exists. As I visit my brother’s grave many times in past months, this poem keeps coming back, even haunting me on some level. If I could talk to Wendell Berry when I'm next in Kentucky, I would tell him that my contemplating this poem over the years reminds me how useful poetry is in my life. Being laid to rest in our family plot in the historic Columbia Cemetery both comforts me and sets my soul free. Regardless of me, the lives of my brother and dad (and other close relatives) are indeed worthy--more than worthy--of a 4 foot by 10 foot piece of land. 

Someday I will tell this farmer genius that he helped lead me to my future grave in a very roundabout way. I’m confident that birds fly, squirrels scamper, and the bees will buzz, nourishing beloved lives no longer in the flesh but rich in meaning and spirit and so much love.

I believe that space, in the chaos of daily living, is real estate used for its highest purpose and grace.

No comments:

Post a Comment