Smetzer Graves Near Clinton, Kansas

This revised poem Copyright © 2010 by Michael Smetzer

***************

To have lived a decade here
before I found these names:
 
        Edith Smetzer
        Daugh. of D. & E. Smetzer
        Died 1886
        Aged 14 days
 
her infant bones the earliest in the churchyard
 
        John Smetzer
        Died June 18, 1892
        Aged 74 years, 5 months, 15 days
 
at 61 he had been the oldest of the Ohio Smetzers
who traveled west to Kansas
and disappeared.
 
These things I have heard of my great great uncle:
 
        that he was illiterate,
        that he never married,
        that he was a hired man,
        that he was the only man of his family
                never to own land.
 
And I understood that he moved westward
        across the land
like a lateral root
hardly disturbing the leaves.
 
So here you ended, old uncle,
your plot open to the sky,
buried more deeply in your faint depression
        of earth
than ever you plowed.
 
It is evening.
Light blue still marks the western edge,
but the sky above is growing higher, thinning,
falling back through darker blues
to the blackness behind the stars.
 
And you, uncle, are still thinning
        in your darkness,
still dissolving into this place I’ve come to.
The darkness dissolves my family name
and leaves me open to a field of stones.
 
Years from now, my great nephew’s children
        may hear of me
 
        that I never married
        that I worked for wages,
        that I never owned land.
 
And I would like them to understand
that I was an illiterate of the earth,
as transient in my time as John in his,
 
as transient really as Edith there,
who never knew the soil
before it closed her in.
 

(first published in Kansas Quarterly)

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