Juggling Fire, Poems

The cemetery man

Nobody thinks of the cemetery man
The guy who digs the graves by hand
Sometimes warming the brittle ground
Before one by one, he can shovel a mound

He measures by yard stick to follow the law
Though he can now eyeball the box he must draw
He lays out the side guards and pounds in the tapes
Then cracks the hard earth with the point of his spade

He never plays music. He never hums.
He just digs to the rhythm of nature’s dull drums
Surrounded by nothing but tombstones and wind
He chunks out a rectangle hole, yet again

Through time and through wisdom he’s managed a way
To finish by digging non-stop for one day
So, when news of death spreads on a cold winter’s night
The cemetery man heads out to the site

He covers the earth with a heavy green tarp
And secures it with shovels, all extra sharp
He sleeps off and on the whole night before
He goes back to the place he must ravage the soil

At morning’s first light, he fires up Ol’ Red
And tosses more shovels and tarps in the bed
The tools are cushioned by crumbly dead wreaths
Memorial Day leftovers unclaimed now for weeks

His kids always beg him, “Dad, clean out your truck!”
When you take us to school, our friends see all this junk!
But maybe he keeps them to let the dead know
He carries them with him wherever he goes

Returning daily, he keeps the grounds neat
Paying kids in the summer with cool, icy treats
To help pick up sticks and keep the grounds clear
So people can visit a few minutes each year

His kids know the drill. They know the routine.
Still, every summer he yells out the same:
“Don’t walk on the grave sites!” And like it or not
He shows them the right way to clean up the plots

In wintertime, though, the cemetery man
Leaves kids at the house all warm in their beds
And while mourners all gather a whole family strong
The cemetery man forms a grave all alone

Pummeling through the rock-solid dirt
He digs a new place for a soul gone from earth
A place he’ll now tend for years with no help
Until into the field he’ll go down himself

He hopes to pass on his love for this land
It’s painful for him to think of its end
More painful, he thinks, is how it will look
If his own grave is not hand dug by the book

And what if the next guy lets all the weeds grow?
Or steps on the graves and carelessly mows?
These things keep him restless and haunt him at night
He can’t dig his own grave. That wouldn’t be right.

But nobody thinks of the cemetery man
The guy who digs the graves by hand
The one who warms the brittle ground
Before one by one, he shovels a mound

2 thoughts on “The cemetery man”

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