Cemetery visit

The month before Rosh Hashanah is a traditional time for visiting the graves of our loved ones.  All four of my grandparents are buried in Baltimore, so I’m making those visits only in my thoughts.  Here’s a poem about placing and unveiling a matzevah (monument) at a grave.



When after eight months we’re allowed to return,

the grave no longer looks like an error

in the neat lawn.  It seems to belong there,

with others like itself in their lengthening rows.


We’ve come to place the new stone: it’s not clear

whether to shore up our grief, or weigh it down:

I’m certain it’s to measure something by—but not

the plot’s width, nor the years of his life.


Perhaps it’s to show how much can happen

in a few bare months.  Affections shift,

thousands of words are read; one part of the world

bursts into flame, while one part rises from ash;


and no way to tell him any of this, no way

to sweep back the evening creeping toward the lawn.

We have to go on making mistakes, marrying, burying,

inventing stories, some of which are never told.


Beneath the polished granite surface

millions of granules crowd and throng,

but the hand can’t feel a single one.

In each letter, though, lies a deep roughened groove.


Across the road stand some trees we planted as children:

they’ve grown too big for anyone to carry.

And at home the mirrors seem unfairly bright,

showing each one of us what we look like now.



Nan Cohen

from Rope Bridge (Cherry Grove, 2005)


If you are mourning someone now, I wish you comfort.

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