Boston Graveyards

1. The Old Granary Burial Ground

Stop here friend and cast an eye
As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for death and follow me

      —Inscription, Susanna Iohonnot’s grave

Many of the stones, slate grey,
or black, worn smooth by fog
and salt air that wafts in from the sea
have sagged and broken, sunk
into the earth, illegible.
The men—free men and deacons,
aldermen and mayors—or lesser men
made famous by the roll of circumstance
rest side by side. The women—
numerous Elizabeths and other godly names—
Marys, Sarahs—Silence, Patience, Grace.
Sad graves of children too.

Beneath stylized Death’s heads
with drooping feathered wings,
round eyes and grinning teeth,
who seem to gnaw
on crossed thigh bones,
or the faces of angels, names
sometimes tell a story
cut in tall, neat letters on the slab.

At times, just a first name:
Frank, Servant to John Hancock
but sometimes more: Susanna Iohonnot
called The Comfort of Mr. Andrew Iohonnet.
Yet often not: Patience Ayers, dead
September 8, 1799; Christopher Sinder,
killed at age 12 by a loyalist whose house
some rioters attacked.

          Back on the Boston Common
an evangelist reads the Parable of the Wheat
and Tares:  The field is the world;  the good seed
are the children of the kingdom; but the tares
are the children of the wicked one.

Cops roust the homeless from benches.
Pigeons enjoy the cool of the central fountain,
finches hop on its bronze figures:
bearded sea-gods and nymphs
with shapely breasts and drapery
to hide their lower parts.
The dead, two-hundred yards away, rest in their sleep.

2. Copp’s Hill Cemetery

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still…

      —Longfellow, “Paul Revere’s Ride”

The gravestones look like knuckles
clawing the earth to keep
it from sinking down, just below
the Old North Church where
the deacon might have looked
before he hung two lanterns in the belfry
as signal lights for Paul Revere.
The British encamped here
on the day they marched to Bunker Hill,
where they would give to death more lives
than then were buried in these bounds.

Captain Daniel Malcolm: True Son
of Liberty
lies here. Further on,
beneath a winged Death’s head
the inscription:

          Here lies
          the body of
          Margarett Colley a
          Free Negro Died
          May 4 1761 aged
          75 years

Was she taken in youth from a village
nestled by the Niger or Benue River?
Did she know capture, sale, the passage
through what must have seemed
an endless sea to a strange world
to which she (stranger still) adapted—
this new reality that killed the old?

The embedded dead sleep
like stakes mooring a land
where clouds roll and the sun comes up,
ships ply the harbor and the River Charles;
where commerce and intercourse have never ceased
since 1630, when settlers first
set foot here—the only time
no graveyards could be seen.

About the author

David W. Landrum lives and writes in Western Michigan. His poetry has appeared widely in journals in the US, UK, Australia, and Europe. Read…

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Issue 19 · December 2013

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