The weather as it hits the landscape is an unfinished pencil sketch, faint and muted with smudges of cold brushing across the canvas of my skin. It is early morning, but still too light for color. Everything is gray- burnished silvers and fresh charcoals show themselves before the sun’s ascent dulls and chars the view, relegating the world to equal light.
I stop and look for landmarks. I’m familiar with the area, but it’s been ages since I was here, and much has changed. Nature, in her way, has commenced reclaiming the land. The gas station on the corner, where owners in new tweed suits used to ply their Oldsmobile with leaded fuel, is now a tribute to the color brown, covered in withered kudzu and old rust. Looking at it, one doesn’t know whether to feel remorse or relief- so one is left with nothing, as I am now.
I’m not far from my destination. Around the next corner and behind the old brick church is a graveyard. At least, there was. A large part of me wants to find out what havoc time has wreaked.
I continue down the gravel road, the muffled sound of my feet hitting the icy rocks the only audible proof of my existence. The tips of my fingers grow painful from the cold; I shove them into my coat pockets.
I try to picture the cemetery in my head as I walk, partially out of curiosity, but also to ward off the mental effects of the cold. I see worn concrete and bent iron fences, their spires either missing or lacking the glory they once had. For their glory is cumulative- the effect of cemetery fences with missing spires is wholly unimpressive, for it is the unbroken line of spires pointing skyward that catches grandeur. Once disturbed- either through vandals or the rise of Nature- one is left with an oddity that arouses suspicion, but not interest.
The graves, however, are different. As they are merely symbolic edifices, their importance is not tethered to any measure of material integrity. A cracked tombstone is still a tombstone; a tombstone washed away by a flood and buried in the bed of a mighty river is still a tombstone. One could borrow Thor’s hammer and smash a tombstone into millions of atoms, and those atoms would still be tombstones. Thus, by that logic (or rule of natural law), those things that change the materiality of the marker only increase the interest, and do nothing to detract.
I have no interest in new grave markers- they are but poor symbols for the corpse beneath. One could argue that they are made to represent the person’s soul, but I think that proves too much. The soul, if it exists, needs no symbol- surely our poor flesh didn’t serve the purpose while we were living. Instead, they mark the spot where bodies were laid to rest or rot, depending on your particular view. (As I walk, it grows so cold that I wonder whether or not I’ll freeze to death. Hypothermia doesn’t particularly care about my point of view. So many things supersede and supplant our opinions with their power of actuality and truth, I sometimes wonder why I believe anything at all.) Either way, they mark the spot where the horses, tired and breathing with sweat and verve, stopped the carriage. The place where the casket was lowered and a few words said. That’s it. And just like we did, they fall apart over time. It is disturbing if viewed at from one angle, but profoundly enlightening if looked at from another. This is true of both the tombstone and the vision.
In my time, I’ve seen some wonderfully altered gravesites. Most being this old are at least cracked. Water, freezing and thawing and freezing again, works its way into any crevice and ruins even the sturdiest concrete. Occasionally, the whole top half lops off and the name of the deceased presses into the earth. Once, I saw a grave that was partially engulfed by a nearby tree trunk- a perfect vision of Nature subsuming not only the flesh, but also its symbol.
I’ve reached the place now. From where I stand, I can see a portion of the cemetery fence emerging from the dying kudzu. The uniform spires cast a staccato shadow over a perfectly upright grave, its eminence shining in the newly wrought light of the sun.
I sigh, and turn to go. It’s so damn cold, after all.