Kerrin McCadden

The Dead

They worry I won’t keep the graves when they’re gone.

See my mother brushing off her hands


at her mother’s grave, surveying lots,

approving and disapproving care and neglect,


my father deep in thought. The trees above

them are the gods of Massachusetts, big-


handed and quiet, tall fathers approving

the play of children in the yard. Somehow


the graves meant new stories about who was buried

underneath, our dead becoming more real,


not only more gone. When I walk with the dead here,

in my village, I want them to say more than their names


and relations, lambs on children’s stones, more than

the dates that must mean influenza, or some


illness that doesn’t kill us anymore.

I don’t want to walk the rows anymore wondering


what shape stone I want, which says more,

the obelisk or the square, marble or granite,


and am I the wife of someone, or am I not.

I want something to happen here, some kind


of story. Maybe the little ghost from my house

will pick up her dress and run to show me her name,


or a flood will wash away the riverbank

—and a knot of bones. Or, slow motion, a hand


will work its way up through the grass—something

the graves can do to us, the way they trip


me when I walk over them, the soil a bit

lower where they have settled, these long dead


I can play whimsy with, unlike the dead

my parents will be, unbearable and new.



“The Dead” first appeared in The Collagist, Issue 72, July 2015.