Even in death my family is divided,
the Skeens planted at Goshen Church,
the Prudens already risen to the mountaintop
at Spring Hill Cemetery. Only the smell
of fresh cut grass unites the two, the wind
in my hair as I carry marigolds to stones.
Looking away from my Grandmother Skeen,
I take in the land I might have owned
had I been a boy, had there been
no flu epidemic in 1918. I am lucky
to have my father, born after the passing
of his father. Nor did he get the farm,
sold so their mother could move
five kids to the city and find work.
From my Grandmother Pruden’s stone,
I look down on that city, the interchanges
of three highways looping together,
easy conversation of hickory and oak
drowned out by arguments of cars.
There used to be just the Kanawha
going wherever rivers go, and the gold leaf
dome of the capitol, so out of place
between coal camps, which I did not see
back then, squatting just beyond the hills.
Now there is another stone, one absent
on those Decoration Day trips
when we came with spades and geraniums,
water pails and push mowers,
my mother’s recent stone,
smaller and off to the side.
My father does not yet need a stone,
still walking his two miles every morning
in Florida, spreading white rocks
among his lobelia and amaryllis,
keeping them neat the way
my mother liked. When his time comes,
he will return to the mountains,
but not to Goshen where his clan collects.
Like his father, who lies in a tiny plot
now lost on private land,
he will not rest in the family gathering,
but join my mother, choosing her
a second time, better having gone to worse,
now back to better.
There will be no monument for me.
I want stone inscribed by time,
the cliffs of Abiquiu, perhaps outcroppings
in these coal-seamed hills. Returned to dust,
I will be free to roam among them all,
unnamed, so undivided.
I know those hills and stones and losses too well. Some day our dust may intermingle in the places we loved the most.