In Memory Hill Cemetery
I've come here to take a photograph
of Flannery O'Connor's grave.
With me are mockingbirds,
robins, and cardinals, nervous,
never lighting long, flitting
from headstone to bough to picket.
I have a Polaroid Land Camera 340,
old as me purchased in the early
seventies, inherited from great uncle Phineas.
It works but every photograph
is a ritual — no auto anything.
Her grave, pale granite, reflects
in the viewfinder — a constellation
of dark pennies beside a nebula of grass.
Why offer an assemblage of withered weeds
and pennies dark with weather?
Light floods the film I don't pull through the rollers.
I don't want the image to develop yet.
I carry it past the governors and statesmen
in their Greek revival graves
near the center toward the back of the cemetery,
through the light skinned white-Blacks
on the near side of the cemetery road,
a carriage's width I must cross
to the Black section.
It slopes down to the creek in the bottom.
If photos stop time
how long does it take me
to cross the cemetery?
What do the strides
to the other side mean?
Here handmade bricks
like colorful quilts laid into the ground
cover graves of slaves.
Where is Sisyphus?
I think I see him in the bottom
bringing back bricks that have washed
down to the creek. Maintaining these graves
is right up his alley.
No headstones here,
only three rusted links hung
from a rod, the first for birth,
second for life, and third for
death in slavery — household slaves
working for the important
families of Georgia's old capital.
When did the third link close?
No birth or death dates. No names.
I expose the film again.
I pull it from the camera and wait.
I separate the positive from the negative
and two graves cloud to one.
Published in Blood Ties and Brown Liquor (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Published: 27 February 2009
© 2009 Sean Hill and Southern Spaces