Monday, August 04, 2008

leaving stones

I stopped by Lakeview Cemetery over the weekend to visit my great great grandmother Ingeborg and my great aunt Corinne. I've written of them before.

They're buried in paupers' graves on the periphery of the old Capitol Hill cemetery that shelters some of Seattle's headliners: the Dennys and the Bells; Yesler and his good friend Princess Angelina, Chief Sealth's daughter ("near her good friend Yesler" reads her tombstone).

Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried in Lakeview, side by side, and most days two or three or four cars will be parked slant against the hillside, their passengers standing hushed and reverential beside the dark granite slabs.

Once I found Quincy Jones' father here.

Cresting the hill on the way to Corinne's plot I saw a stone I hadn't seen before: a marker for the poet Denise Levertov, who passed away in 1997. The deep dark black marble is etched simply with her name and dates. A sizeable chunk of granite rests on top, which I took to allude to the Jewish tradition in which visitors bring stones and place them on their beloveds' headstones.

It was breathtaking in its simplicity. I rested my hand on the dark stone and it radiated the sun's heat back to me.

I fell in love with Lakeview before I ever knew we had kin there. Snugged up against the backside of Volunteer Park, Lakeview feels like a hidden extension of the Olmsted Brother's gem, with its winding trails and ancient flowering trees.

I mentioned once to my grandmother how much I liked to walk through Lakeview and she told me of Corinne and Ingeborg. She hadn't visited them in years, but she was pretty sure she knew where to find them.

They were planted at opposite ends of the cemetery. We started with Corinne, digging at the feet of May Bunce, who passed away in 1917. May was buried next to a companion who died some 30 years before her and had a different last name, but they shared twin monuments -- low lying cement sheets that sheltered their graves -- so we figured they were related.

Grama remembered that Bunce and her buddy were lying here when they buried her sister, in the rain and grey, and remembered that they placed Corinne somewhere below them. Her memory was fuzzy, of course: she was 5 or 6 when they laid her older sister down and maybe in her late 30s when she visited her last. She was in her 70s the day we took the trowel to Lakeview and I started to dig up muddy turf with gardening gloves.

We found seven cement head stones buried under several inches of sod. None of them Corinne. By the third unearthing I got smart and figured out how to pull back just enough earth to find a few characters of the individual's name. Like a game of hangman we'd puzzle out the possibilities and if none of them fit the ancestor we wanted it to be I'd set the sod back like a divot and we'd move on.

Grama supervised the work, laying on the encouragement and the macabre jokes. The day was all mud and muck and moss and spring buds and laughter. I thought for sure I'd never forget the things she said -- they were so startling and witty and so grama. And of course I've forgotten every word. Except the laughter.

After the seventh stone Grama thought we should toss in the trowel -- we'd been at it a couple of hours by now -- and I said okay just one more, and of course that one was Corinne.

We excavated the rough concrete like archaeologists. I chipped away what mud I could, digging it out of the lettered grooves with the tip of my trowel. Grama used some of the water that we'd brought for the flowers and gave the stone a tender bath.

A few months after that we went looking for Ingeborg, but we were smarter this time. We went to the office where they had a record of who was where, and a fellow accompanied us with a shovel to the opposite corner from where Corinne lay, where the headstones were etched in Kanji.

He dug up Ingeborg on the first go. Grama leaned low over the headstone and said a few words in Norwegian to her grandmother -- the woman who had mothered her, like my grandmother mothered me, in that wonderful do-over way that grandparents are allowed with their grandchildren, that's all promise and potential and generousity.

I stood close by in silence, fingering a stone.

Losing Track

Long after you have swung back
away from me
I think you are still with me:

you come in close to the shore
on the tide
and nudge me awake the way

a boat adrift nudges the pier:
am I a pier
half-in half-out of the water?

and in the pleasure of that communion
I lose track
the moon I watch goes down, the

tide swings you away, before
I know I'm
alone again long since,

mud sucking at grey and black
timbers of me
a light growth of green dreams dying

Denise Levertov

1 comment:

anniemcq said...

"like my grandmother mothered me, in that wonderful do-over way that grandparents are allowed with their grandchildren".

I've been away too long. Your posts are always just what I need. Thank you, friend.

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