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,
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.