Today is Memorial Day. I think of my Daddy who died when I was 11. He was ill with ALS for five years before and was buried in the Bethlehem Lutheran Cemetry in Sylvan Grove, KS. He was in the Navy in WW2. It is thought by many that ALS could be a casualty of WW2 just like Agent Orange from the Vietnam era.
I was no stranger to the cemetery. In the 60’s in KS, children were brought to funerals all the time. We saw open caskets. We saw burials. It was a part of our life. Sometimes we would start to walk home from school on old Hiway 18 while waiting for our dad to pick us up on the way. We walked by the cemetery. Later after Daddy died and we were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Bentrup in Sylvan we would walk up the hill to see Daddy’s grave. Mom planted peony bushes and 2 juniper trees at the headstone.
I loved the walk up the hill to the cemetery. The wind would ruffle my hair, freckles would pop out, and my glasses would slide down my face with sweat. It would be so quiet except for the occasional lowing of a cow. It was peace to me.
The cemetery was on a hill surrounded by buffalo grass pastures with cows, sunflowers growing in the ditch, and barbwire fences. I had grandparents buried there along with my dad, and an aunt, and other relatives. I knew many of the names because they were the families in my church, Bethlehem Lutheran.
Later when I went to college, at Southwestern, in Winfield, KS, I began to be serious about writing poetry. For my Senior project in 1979, I decided I wanted to write poetry. Dr Dan Daniels was my mentor and advisor. He taught me so much about poetry just as I learned so much about literature from Troy Boucher, AD Cope, Dr Helen Wroten, and Gleva Hansen.
One of the poems that grew out of my Senior Project was about the cemetery in Sylvan Grove. I believe I was heavily influenced by Denise Levertov while writing this poem.
The temporal eternity
Stones lie in their beds of grass
in their beds of grass.
of grass. The grass
marble heads, the trees
twisted where storms
ascends, slowly bends
up the slopes,
transfixed at the headstones.
A silent prayer of the prairie,
so temporal, it is
nothing else but
eternity itself, a life
too short to know.
Today since I could not visit my Daddy’s grave I went to Gold Beach’s historic Pioneer Cemetery. I needed to remember the dead.