Church Street, Stoke Newington

“After a long period of neglect wildlife has flourished with plants and creepers framing the monuments and chapel. This cemetery provides a unique natural habitat normally found miles outside London. The Abney Park Cemetery Trust and the London Borough of Hackney are working together to end the years of neglect.” – Local Nature Preserve Architectural Conservation Area

I saw the squire
in a tree
while the ground
pulled the stones down
to meet the bodies.

I walked
on broken stones
afraid to look
between the cracks
afraid that I might see
the dead
look back.

there are only
withered bones
and hanging vines
and climbing trees
with roots
that touch the dead
so that they hear me
and whisper back
making crackling sounds
in the underbrush.

I passed a tomb
between two trees,
a gothic rest
with fallen leaves
sucking on the earth
and I met someone
among the ivy and branches
on a beautiful afternoon.

“My stone rolled away,”
he said.
“and I saw that the earth
had cracked and moved it
and I became bored
the sunlight playing in my eyes
so I rose to enjoy the day.

“Are you new here?
Do you plan to stay?”

And I shook his hand
politely refusing his kind invitation
and moved on
to read the markers
of some others.

It’s a quiet day
for those spread
under headstones.

“Just asleep until we meet,”
said the grave of lovers
and family,
but when they rise again
they won’t need their names
carved in stone.

They can’t enjoy this place
like me.
And I am elbow
to elbow
with those who’ve come
to do the same.

“Oh, please excuse me.”
There is no rest for the living.

I saw two on a bench
in a pleasant retreat.
“This place is nice in summer.”
Laughed one to the other.

Only the animals
are allowed
to piss on the gravestones
and trample this temple
in this home for the dead,
and I wonder if the squirrels
hide acorns in their heads.

a poem
Paul Bourgeois
Abney Park Cemetery, Britain, September 14/94


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