To complete our Halloween series, here’s a poem by Robert Frost suitable for All-Saint’s and All-Soul’s Day: “In a Disused Graveyard.”
When I was a child and my father was alive, there would be times when my six sisters and I would be corralled up inside a Fifties American car for some long two-lane trip to a grandmother’s house or other destination. Yes it was crowded, and the wave-rolling suspensions of those pastel and chrome cars added another element: the possibility that one of us would vomit or simply rebel against the length of an uncountable trip.
To counter that, liquid Dramamine was administered to the younger kids from paper Dixie cups. This was given to suppress nausea, but the side-effect of sleepiness was welcomed too. Half of us might be drowsy to asleep and the other half just bored.
For that older half, my father introduced a car-ride game to help us endure the drive. It was called Zip, and I suspect it might have been something he learned with his family of mostly brothers back in the Model A era. Zip had simple rules. In the game, a handful of objects that could be spotted beside our rural roads could score points. A white horse would score 1 point. An old man with a white beard riding a bicycle would score 100 points. And cemeteries would score 10 points. The scoring child would need to shout “Zip” before any other and explain what scoring object they had spotted. It was an odd scoring system. White horses would be rare, and any spotting was subject to suits regarding — well spotting. Was that horse completely white? Did it count if it had a small blaze on the forehead? These days I am an old man with a white beard who rides his bicycle often, and I am still reminded that I could win most Zip games by spotting myself (if that is possible). I can’t recall any of us scoring a come-from-behind miracle win from such in those days though,.
This meant cemeteries were the scoring thing. Any church steeple coming into our vision put us on the edge of our sagging seat-covered seats, tongue leaning on the fence of our teeth ready to “zip!” But the subtle player knew more, knew that some older farmhouses might have a private graveyard, or that there might be one where a church no longer was, its congregation consolidated in the ebb and flow of settlement.
Such would be Robert Frost unconsoled graveyard in his poem, with only past parishioners, homesteaders, and villagers buried there. And now we, as we travel our own roads, are picking out our own personal graveyards: grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, friends, spouses. No farmhouse, no church, no village anymore.
“Sure of death the marbles rhyme” — also 10 points!
In such a graveyard the old stones, now much dated, contrast against our presence, alive, visiting such a place. Can this not seem to say there is a line between the living and the dead, a border, an underline — a place here, and a place there? As Frost reminds us, no, that’s a lie we act as if we believe, mostly, even if it can hardly fool a rock.
There are religious believers who pray for the dead on these first two days in November. And we could be praying for ourselves too once we reach an age of really knowing. Slightly premature ghosts, then we pray for those who’ve come to terms. After all, Yogi Berra was said to have said: “If you don’t go to other people’s funerals, they won’t go to yours.”
A simple acoustic guitar accompanied first-take today, as I’m pressed for time. The player gadget will appear for some, but this highlighted hyperlink is an alternative way to play my audio performance of “In a Disused Graveyard.” Want to follow along with Frost’s original text? Here’s a link to that as well.