This is the place where time stands still –
I arrived under heavy rain and stood alone
in the wet silence, I saw grey haemorrhaging
over green to mark that ground where cenotaphs
like afterthoughts house our history’s ironies,
the names of all those who had to labor to die –
memory lifted like a mist battling fading fog,
like storm clouds giving way to golden light –
I came to this, the only place where you are dead
to me and from which your stopped clock
can be borne beyond its brackets of stone –
when I left, I knew I would always carry youin the only place where you are alive for me.
Every year on our birthday, June 13th, I visit my father's grave. I recognize (after a slight admonishment from my sister) that this is truly the only place where he is dead to me; everywhere else, he lives and breathes and that is where I carry him - in my heart and mind. It was a rainy, overcast, and dull day when I arrived, which meant I had the place to myself. Soon, the clouds would clear and a brilliant golden light shimmered above the tombstones.
At the back of the cemetery, as if to frame its outlying boundary, are 15 headstones, erected to commemorate local men who volunteered for the Royal Irish Fusiliers and died in the Great War. These cenotaphs always seem like an afterthought to me, like the young men who sacrificed their lives to fight for England have been relegated to the margins of our attention, in the same way as they have always occupied a peripheral place in Irish history: their act of volunteering for the crown at a time when Ireland was fighting for its freedom was frowned upon by de Valera and his subsequent governments. They and 50,000 just like them were largely ignored or forgotten in our historical narratives and that's one of the great ironies of our complicated history.
In my poem, I weave their story into my own anniversary by observing that graveyards are the only places where people are truly dead to us: as soon as we leave we carry them with us, alive again, in our hearts and minds.