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)