Sooner or later every poet writes a cemetery poem.
And, in most of them—all, really—there’s death.
And life, too—grass growing, or a bird crossing the sky,
maybe some token left from the living for the dead:
a plastic toy from McDonalds, some flowers,
already wilting, a poem copied out on lined paper.
Cemetery poems mention tampons, or feminine hygiene
generally, less frequently. Ditto eggplant.
And it’s the rare cemetery poem that celebrates yet deplores
the addictive qualities of the Boggle App.
You almost can’t have a cemetery poem
without the word “stone”: headstone, gravestone;
and in almost every cemetery poem, even the ones
that try to end by honoring life and the sublime,
there’s a whiff of the pointlessness of it all,
the stony silence of non-being.
No wonder Frank O’Hara wrote about juju beans
and kangaroos! Cemetery poems can be depressing,
one-note shit, especially if you toss in the political:
mass graves, some garish anecdote of an atrocity—
dismemberment, rape, etc., which makes it all seem
worse than pointless. The point being suffering and injustice.
Then, there’s the macabre, which, trust me, is just boring,
and the mock-macabre, which may be more boring.
Rarely do cemetery poems battle for airtime and interrupt
each other: I’ve known cemetery poems and you,
my friend, are no cemetery poem.
Cemetery poems might actually be more about poetry
than cemeteries, in which case there’s no such thing
as a cemetery poem, just poems about poetry,
and so every poem is a cemetery.
J.D. Scrimgeour is a poet and nonfiction writer who has published a book of poems, The Last Miles, a chapbook of poetry, Territories, and a CD of poetry and music, Ogunquit & Other Works. His book of nonfiction, Themes For English B: A Professor’s Education In & Out of Class, won the AWP Award for Nonfiction. He coordinates the Creative Writing program at Salem State University and serves on the Executive Board of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival.