KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 10: Fall 2018
Poem: 479 words

Spade Therapy

by Skip Eisiminger
Helmstedt, Germany, 2010
Spring in Germany dawned 
on a cool cloudless day—
time to fold back the spruce boughs 
that had comforted the graves all winter, 
prune the crisp chrysanthemum borders, 
set out a flat of sweet William, 
and scrub the mud thrown 
by the pummeling rains of March. 
I had inherited a mandate of tradition 
from my in-laws, whose plots 
rivaled the Gardens of Versailles, 
without the state but all the pains. 
Therefore, while my wife vacuumed 
cold ashes from what was once
her mother’s hearth, our daughter and I 
drove out to the Helmstedt Friedhof, 
or “courtyard of peace.” 

On the drive, I patched up some tales 
of Anja’s relations we were going to visit, 
trying to coax a smile from my passenger. 
Worsening matters was my analogy 
about lining grief with lead, 
poisoning the ground water. 
As she wept, I apologized 
and extended a hand to catch a tear, 
but my handkerchief proved a truer consolation.

Collecting my tools from the trunk, 
I said that African elephants 
are known to remain standing after death 
until the matriarch gently tips them 
toward the waiting scavengers. 
When the bones are chalk white, 
the herd returns to conclude its rites 
and purge their storied memories. 
Nature does not mummify her dead; 
she rolls the bones over, I said, 
and goes to copulate. 
Anja continued to frown, 
but these evergreen denials 
always put me in an odd humor 
I didn’t fully understand myself.

While I trimmed the holly and dwarf cedar, 
she carried the clippings to the compost pile 
behind the crematorium and waited. 
Nearing dusk, her shadow was almost 
as long as mine. 
I said I did not understand God’s decision 
to punish Adam with work 
when work had rescued the Creator 
from the unlit void. A fertile field, 
I said, is the promised land, 
and work thereon is worship.

As I paused to mop my face, 
uneasy in the silence 
broken by a distant train, I said, 
“Do you want to give it a try?” 
Anja nodded, smiled, seized the spade, 
and sprang upon its shoulders with both feet. 
When she had turned one entire plot, 
she grabbed the rake 
as I went for water from the well. 
When I returned, we set sweet William out 
and buttoned pine straw snugly at his chin. 
Chastened, we stood to survey our work 
and pronounced it good.

Our grief beguiled by labor,
we stopped at the rail crossing
as a freight train rumbled past.
First in line, I cut the ignition
and lowered the windows
for the fullness of the thunder.
“Death’s a rocket we take to the stars,
someone said, and sorrow’s a train
we ride to the horizon,” I said,
“but it runs on a queer schedule
across quirky terrain.
Watch as the red light on the caboose
winks out where the rails merge.”


—From The Mutti Sequence of poems, for Ilse “Mutti” Barmwater (1918-2009)

Site contains text, proprietary computer code,
and graphic images that are protected by:

⚡   Many thanks for taking time to report broken links to: KYSOWebmaster [at] gmail [dot] com   ⚡