Angels sit on Grandma’s grave,
two stone gray cherubs plucking
soundless tunes on harp and lyre,
pocked torsos mocked by time,
wings chipped and scarred, blank
eyes sealed in resigned introspection.
I have come home to touch the stone,
to know if the frame still holds,
with its delicate architecture,
I, the lone pilgrim–my mother
and teenage son, reluctant companions–
here among this clutter of crypts.
Burial grounds in Louisiana spawn
edifices, to keep the dead from going
under. But, I wonder what happens
when structure fails, monuments crumble,
the sea come back to claim its own,
suck at foundations…
I feel the stir of old bones:
corpses that defy repose, resist
decay, the jazz of souls
striving through a syncopation of time:
the momentary float on air.
I’ve been told, music moves
only in time, but don’t believe it;
music lingers long after musicians
have gone, like wind whispering
reluctant secrets through hanging moss,
shadows of egrets riding rice fields,
the pulse of tires on asphalt,
being here with these folks.
Mother, solitary guardian of All
Souls, now the indifferent keeper
of everyone’s flowers. Beneath
a vague opacity, she seems to see
something else; she’s getting deaf,
at least, not hearing, when I call, “Mother.”
My musician son, holding firm
to his grandmother’s arm, hums,
conjuring jazz motifs in his head,
impromptu counterpoint to this place
and the vacancy of Mother’s gaze.
Where does she go behind thick eyes,
borne away by what private voices,
tangled with the dead in the place
where time stops, the beat
arrested, remaking the past?
I break the silence of her stare:
“Mother, can you tell us their stories?”
Riffs of hot summer lives on front-porch swings,
sultry sleep on screened-in porches
to the hum of mosquitoes, sweaty legs
beneath snarled sheets connecting desire
with need and costing blood. Distant clatter
of children, shrill mother’s voice, the thwack
of the switch, low rumble of a rough father
chiding her out to pick cotton with the boys.
Old lovers, too, tired of dank coffins
harbored for years, clamor for release.
Though darkness belongs to the dead,
they surely don’t want it or the weary
weight of earth; they’re the ones
who recall the sea to claim
its place in the clay. Raised
by moon-tides, ghosts slip out
through new cracks in old mortar.
My own uncertain thoughts rise
through heavy air, above tufts of moss,
rooted in rifts of brick and marble
artifice. Once elegant markers now
stand in relief against an encroaching
scrim of machine shops, Tesca’s Tavern,
the Quickie Weinie Stop, the rush
and whine of tires. A siren shrieks
answering unknown urgencies.
My son follows that crimson sound—
but I am grounded here, torn
by urgencies of my own—
to hold that young boy body,
that music he makes;
to float some day on a jazzed up
Dies Irae to In Paradisum;
to surrender to the spell
of antique angels and the desire
to breach those gravestone eyes.
—A native of Southwest Louisiana, but the daughter of an army officer and diplomat, Cordelia Hanemann has lived in Japan and London as well as in the US. Professor emerita retired, she spends her time gardening, taking classes in art and philosophy, hanging out with friends and family, writing poetry, painting, cooking, eating, dancing, and celebrating the gifts of the universe. Recently the featured poet for Negative Capability Press, she has placed her work in numerous journals, including Mainstreet Rag; in anthologies, most recently Heron Clan IV; and in her own chapbook. A practicing artist and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina, she is now working on a first novel about her roots in Cajun Louisiana.