New England Graveyard

By Stephen Sandy b. 1934 Stephen Sandy
Back of the church the busy forsythias bow
and scrape to May and all these blessed stones
stiff in their careful finery of words;
the mess of markers makes me go and browse.
Somehow the blocks of slate and marble hate
to be cut and carved to the dimensions
of Mary Monday’s age and her virtues.
At heart they hurt to be made literate
and they are rebelling, fast as they can,
shedding an edge, a letter, as they go
—a year, a part of a skull, a bone—
it hurts them to stand so long for this
kind of death not theirs. Fast as they can
they are leaning away from their duty
and look down longing for the warm sod.
The prides and fears they stand witness to,
the ladies and gents, are only whimsy now.
They cease to reflect that wary pride
the flesh beneath them took in lying down.
To the last date line and death’s-head-stare,
the legend reads, “There! I’ve done it!”
But these are only beginning,
the blocks of shale forget their lines
letting the sunlight and rain divide
and subdivide their veins and bone.
They do not care, they only feel
an unnatural heaviness, tottering so
in the hot light. They long to be off and away,
they toss and jibe in the sun;
a whole regatta of black sails, they are sailing away
over the lumpy green yard of time, and never
coming about for home until they capsize
turned turtle by boys from Central Square.
Tired of holding—they are tired of holding up;
their always-leaning makes me hold my tongue
and sit with them awhile. We heave
our shoulders, or our shadows, on the mounds,
while under the hills, memorials more fine
lie lip to paper lip
                                 and keep their impossible word.

Stephen Sandy, “New England Graveyard” from The Thread. Copyright © 1998 by Stephen Sandy. Reprinted by permission of Louisiana State University Press.

Source: The Thread (Louisiana State University Press, 1998)

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Poet Stephen Sandy b. 1934

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Subjects Living, Death, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Stephen  Sandy


Stephen Sandy studied poetry with Robert Lowell and Archibald MacLeish, earned a PhD from Harvard University, and traveled to Japan on a Fulbright Visiting Lectureship. He is the author of more than a half dozen collections of poetry and has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Vermont Council on the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

Stephen Sandy’s collections include Riding to . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Death, Time & Brevity, Arts & Sciences, Language & Linguistics, Social Commentaries, History & Politics

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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