Conrad Potter Aiken

(5 August 1889 – 17 August 1973 / Savannah, Georgia)

God’s Acre - Poem by Conrad Potter Aiken

In Memory Of. In Fondest Recollection Of.
In Loving Memory Of. In Fond
Remembrance. Died in October. Died at Sea.
Who died at sea? The name of the seaport
Escapes her, gone, blown with the eastwind, over
The tombs and yews, into the apple orchard,
Over the road, where gleams a wagon-top,
And gone. The eastwind gallops up from sea
Bringing salt and gulls. The marsh smell, too,
Strong in September; mud and reeds, the reeds
Rattling like bones.


She shifts the grass-clipper
From right to left hand, clips and clips the grass.
The broken column, carefully broken, on which
The blackbird hen is laughing—in fondest memory.
Burden! Who was this Burden, to be remembered?
Or Potter? The Potter rejected by the Pot.
‘Here lies Josephus Burden, who departed
This life the fourth of August, nineteen hundred.
“And He Said Come.” ’ Josephus Burden, forty,
Gross, ribald, with strong hands on which grew hair,
And red ears kinked with hair, and northblue eyes,
Held in one hand a hammer, in the other
A nail. He drove the nail . . . This was enough?
Or—also—did he love?


She changes back
The clipper. The blades are dull. The grass is wet
And gums the blades. In Loving Recollection.
Four chains, heavy, hang round the vault. What chance
For skeletons? The dead men rise at night,
Rattle the links. ‘Too heavy! can’t be budged . . .
Try once again—together—NOW! . . . no use.’
They sit in moonless shadow, gently talking.
‘Old Jones it must have been, who made those chains.
I’d like to see him lift them now!’ . . . The owl
That hunts in Wickham Wood comes over, mewing.
‘An owl,’ says one. ‘Most likely,’ says another.
They turn grey heads.


The seawind brings a breaking
Bell sound among the yews and tombstones, ringing
The twisted whorls of bronze on sunlit stones.
Sacred . . . memory . . . affectionate . . . O God
What travesty is this—the blackbird soils
The broken column; the worm at work in the skull
Feasts on medulla; and the lewd thrush cracks
A snailshell on the vault. He died on shipboard—
Sea-burial, then, were better?


On her knees
She clips and clips, kneeling against the sod,
Holding the world between her two knees, pondering
Downward, as if her thought, like men or apples,
Fell ripely into earth. Seablue, her eyes
Turn to the sea. Sea-gulls are scavengers,
Cruel of face, but lovely. By the dykes
The reeds rattle, leaping in eastwind, rattling
Like bones. In Fond Remembrance Of. O God,
That life is what it is, and does not change.
You there in earth, and I above you kneeling.
You dead, and I alive.


She prods a plantain
Of too ambitious root. That largest yew-tree,
Clutching the hill—


She rises from stiff knees,
Stiffly, and treads the pebble path, that leads
Downward, to sea and town. The marsh smell comes
Healthy and salt, and fills her nostrils. Reeds
Dance in the eastwind, rattling; warblers dart
Flashing, from swaying reed to reed, and sing.


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Poem Submitted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010



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