Wednesday, December 03, 2003

A Walk Before Dawn

I stood with the dead in the dark before dawn
And above us the mountain burned at the sun
And before me like lanterns of light
The serried stones glowing white
The rich man's marble and the poor's limestone
And neithers inscriptions could I read in the gloom
The slopes above like pastoral hands
Held in still reverence for what lay below

And all the world in stillness
And the night lit alight
And all that was silent
And all that was calm
Lay as one in the gathering light

The wind drew across a quiet lawn
And the graves heaved upwards in fresh air
And life remembered what it was to live
And lost loves remembered what they once did give

And all was in motion
And darkness took flight
And stillness moved
In day's new might

I stood with the dead at the break of dawn
And saw that eternity, in balance, is dying
But of what remains,
That fraction is mine.


Yeah, it's a little maudlin. There's a fine old cemetary along the ridgeline of the hill behind the Bellefonte Courthouse complex. Union Cemetary holds the remains of three Pennsylvania Governors under fine marble monuments and a half-dozen near-anonymous USCT veterans, their limestone gravestones so worn by wind and weather that they no longer can be read. When I first moved here, you could still sort of read those limestone markers; I regret not making a rubbing of those old USCT markers when they were still readable. This poem is mostly observational. I began composition as I was walking through Union cemetary, and tried to retain those lines while I walked back to somewhere I could sit down and write things out. That last set of lines was what came first, and it sounded much more profound in my head, at the crest of the hill at the break of dawn, than it did afterwards, when I got it down on paper. Bald Eagle Mountain dominates the view from the cemetary, which faces north-westerly towards that folded, wooded mass of ridges. The geometry of the location is such that morning sunlight lights up the mountainside long before the hills of the valley floor see any direct light. In the late fall, in the first light of day, the wooded slopes can glow like beaten iron hot from the forge.

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