reverent to family memory
show for these workings held
every three to five springs,
some driving a ways, complaining,
but always here on the chosen day
with tools and kids and dinner.
Each starts by mowing off the plot
of his kin, raising toppled stones,
filling a grave where the box
collapsed after its allotted years,
leaning bricks in a little fence
around an infant’s burial.
But the margins, medians, vacant
sections for the future, and the spaces
of forgotten families, take
the real work. The woods
have to be cut back across the ground
they’ve claimed, a drain
mattocked out for the road.
Brush bound by honeysuckle must be ripped
off stones, and poison ivy
raked into the hidden gully,
while other trash is burned.
Broken glass and jars half-filled
with rotten flowers and toy lambs
are thrown away. Widening the parking lot
they find a skull where the slave
ground must have been. They
tell the young the harsh old times,
lean on scythes thinking how much care
the dead get, how few snakes they’ve killed
this year, and how this high reservoir
above the floods gets more work
than their yards in payment
for bringing all together.