The Invisible Graveyard
There, in the foreground, is the corn crib,
stripped of paint, its wood now rotted and grey. a
I can remember it, as a child, painted white.
Inside were broad bins
and each fall my grandfather would fill them with corn,
stripped off the cobs, millions, maybe billions of kernels,
left to dry, left to be made into feed for the pigs.
Just beyond it, low, with its rusted metal roof
is the sow barn, the place of pig birth,
dozens of piglets each season, joyfully running
in and out to the mud fields at the edge of the swamp,
and back again for milk and naps.
That open space, to the right of the sow barn?
That’s where the big barn once stood.
Two stories high, room for corn cribs below,
hay bales below. Barn cats and wasps wandered
in and out of the cracks in the wall,
Sun lit up the floating motes of hay and pollen
floating in the air.
You used to play in that barn as a child,
and later you simply came there to rest your soul
amidst the sunbeams between the boards.
It is gone now. The barn.
Burnt to the ground a generation ago.
Long enough ago there are no ashes left
to mark its passing. Grass grows there now,
an invisible graveyard of more than a mere building.
About this poem
Some of you know that I work a couple days a week as kind of a chaplain, what they call a “spiritual counselor” for hospice patients. Often, like today, I listen to my patients talk about what is lost, and often it turns my mind to things lost in my own life. It’s a long list.
The poem is not meant to be melancholy. For each thing lost, something new has appeared. Life is like that. But even with the joy that is my life these days, there is a backdrop of loss, and always will be. It’s that mix that makes life rich and amazingly layered. And behind each of us are invisible graveyards, of things lost, and yet, somehow, in memory and hearts, not quite.
The picture really is of what was my Grandfather’s farm, taken about a month ago. The two buildings really were the corn crib and the sow barn. And there once was a magnificent old barn, now burnt to the ground. I cried the day it burnt down.