He is bent over, walks with a shuffling stumble. He follows the path, inscribing it center or as close to it as he can get. He wants to say hello to those who would acknowledge him. He doesn’t understand why his mouth refuses to smile, refuses to form even the simplest of words. All he sees is her face, he sees it clearly when he walks each morning as they used to, and he will follow it until he sees it again the loamy soil they will share soon enough.
In this place there is a fatted, sacrificial silence. It is the large Jewish Cemetery nestling the road where Maryland and the District are loosely stitched together. It is a small plot goldenrod dirt outskirting Lisbon.
This ground is sacred not for the blessing of one who has taken the tallit of holiness. The sanctity of this ground leaches from the simple pine boxes that return with the body to the soil.
The stones, mostly simple with neatly incised Hebrew inscriptions are all blank to me, worn smooth by memory denied. I place my ear carefully to each, wanting to hear a voice, a fractured whisper that will resonate in the hollow spaces.
I pass by those with shared names for if he or she is here each must share the isolation they willed me. I look at the faces of passing mourners — none resemble the morning mirror.
I grow tired of the search, sit in the paltry shade of the ricinus plant knowing we both will be gone by sundown.
First Appeared in Legal Studies Forum, Vol. 29, No. 1, 2005.
When did we stop being of the soil and begin to fear it, to tell our children not to touch the ground, it is dirty when once it was only dirt, and we put it in our mouths, from time to time trying to drive our mothers crazy. She says if you are going to plant wear gloves, and when she walks away I pull them off of my hands and plunge fingers into the turned and dampened soil. This, I am convinced, is how it is supposed to be, how nature intended, before designer dyed mulch, rubber mulch, before we became the robots our parents’ sci-fi writers anticipated. Later, in the shower, scraping the dirt from beneath fingernails, I watch as it flows reluctantly down the drain I bid farewell to that bit of my childhood but I swear I won’t deny my grandchildren.
She wants to know if I want to her gloves while planting so I don’t get dirt deep in my skin and under my nails. There is no way I can explain to her there is a certain joy in placing my fingers into the just wet soil, in moving it with my hands, squeezing small clods of earth, watching bits of soil fall away. It is certainly dirty work but I know that this is as close as I can get to the earth from which I came without engaging in that final, eternal intimacy.
It is Spring and I press my ear to still barren soil to hear the hypnotic thrum of sap reaching slowly skyward engine straining against gravity earthworms beginning their tunneling, marshaling armies for an exodus through ever night soil. I listen to the bud its velour face unfolding before the stillborn sky, a robin, breast unfurled stares at me in wonder.