What I left on my Father’s Grave 34 Years Later

By Renita Boyle

I wasn’t even sure that I would know how to find it now.
 
Instinct, rather than familiarity, drove me wildly upstream
through the twisting backroads of my childhood
against the current of the years.
 
I hardly know how I have come to sit here on this green hill
among the gravestones of my people.
My Father’s headstone is in front of me
 
and I am howling now- howling, howling
like the lone wolf that all griefs make of us.
 
Why do I never come here?
A twinge of guilt.
I have abandoned this place.
 
Is this how we remember our dead?
Flowers seem ill-fitting to any memory I have of him. 
 
We spent no time together here
save for the day when all was black
but for the golden blaze of October leaves
splayed on his casket.
 
I sit now on his grave.
 
I try not to think of the 34 lapsed years
and what remains below the earth- this earth; 
how he has decomposed.
 
What yet remains there:
His fishing pole and cap?
Leather belt and buckle?
Working boots? 
 
And in the pocket of his flannel shirt our photos
aged 12 and 9?
 
Somewhere below this earth is a younger me
but it is a woman’s hands
that reach out to trace his name
 
and lay these gifts where his heart
might have been:
 
A blade of grass from dappled brook
A pinecone yet damp with dew
A maple leaf not yet tinged with autumn
A red stone wet with tears of the river
A curl of birch bark scrolled like an epitaph
A knot from the heart of a mourning popple 
A fallen feather
 
Birds singing over this fresh sorrow.