Minnesota Poetry: Edith Rylander’s “Planting the Cemetery Box”

Edith Rylander has been writing poetry since 1943. Her life as wife, mother, gardener, stock raiser, woods dweller, and thoughtful observer of nature and life is reflected in her poems, which have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies.

Rylander has also been a newspaper columnist since 1980, her work appearing in the Long Prairie Leader, the Morrison County Record, and the St. Cloud Times, and in a collection called Rural Routes: Essays on Living in Rural Minnesota. Rylander lives with her husband in Grey Eagle, Minnesota.

Planting the Cemetery Box

How easily a person falls

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Into certain attitudes!

Here I stand, hands clasped, head bowed,

Looking at your gravestone

As if I needed help

Reading the name on it,

The name both of us married

In different generations.

But kneeling is natural,

Though I was never a kneeler,

Have never had your closeness

to that bearded old heathen-slayer

Up in the blue May sky.

When you talked about heaven it sounded

Like a big family picnic,

Potato salad and nectar

And Swedish sourdough rye.

Nobody having an argument,

None of the kids crabby,

All the folks you loved, together,

Picnicking forever.

I was never that sort of kneeler;

But kneeling to plant is easy.

I set down the flats, I break up

The good dark soil, I water.

I lift and transplant two geraniums,

Two petunias, an impatiens,

And two tufts of sweet alyssum,

Pouring more water around them,

Firming up the soil,

And your old competent hands

Rise up around mine,

Passing on wisdom, pressing the earth tight.

Something pours into me,

Not down from above,

But up, from the thin grassed dirt

Of Oakland cemetery.

It is good to be brought low,

To be borne down, to feel

This hot rush in body,

Face, and eyes. To kneel

With our hands in dirt

And the dear bones

Of our loved dead under us,

Pressing against our knees.

- "Planting the Cemetery Box" by Edith Rylander, as it appears in her collection Hive Dancer, published by Red Dragonfly Press. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher.