They are unburying the dead at Woodlands.
Make room for condos. Lay new sod.
Plant daffodils and ignore
the upturned dirt in six-foot lengths.
The sight of the river so close,
the iron smell coming up the hill
meeting the dark, deep scent of the earth.
The plaques they’ll save.
Move, or auction off.
The unclaimed will simply disappear.
In 1965, you walked the halls of Woodlands,
in a crisp white skirt,
uncomfortable shoes that click-clacked
on the floor.
Passed by closed doors,
wondered at the movement behind them.
Everything just in the periphery,
doctors cloaked in silence. Pristine.
One young nurse taken away
after she told them what she’d seen an orderly do—
insane, they whispered, insane.
It was the hissing sound that got you.
Headstones pulled up, reused for walkways and barbeque pits.
Some thrown back in the river,
unwanted fish let go,
sinking quickly, carrying the names with them.
Better, you thought, than Tranquille,
where they’d traded graves for a mass trench.
In mornings, you made yourself
thick, dark tea,
sat at the small kitchen table
and allowed yourself those moments:
sun barely cresting the horizon,
hot tea steaming,
still in only your slip.
You waited for the last moment
to dress, button your pressed skirt,
push your feet into sensible white shoes—
to let the day become inevitable.
The hospital set on the hill,
once the lunatic asylum,
now simply a place for those unwanted.
Unwanted, finally, seemingly a kind word.
Retarded, not right, moron;
ll these names slipped out too easily; daily.
Later, you said you liked the way
they wanted to hold your hand,
how they were happy to follow you
down the halls; simple, you said,
there’s nothing strange, just simple.
You’ve been gone too long now,
for me to ask if you knew those children
whose headstones have long sunk
to the river’s bed,
whose names are committed to no paper,
who are still unwanted,
Or, if they would remember
your tidy white skirt,
your heavy brogue
your hands, fingers splayed,
leading them forward.
Appeared in Grain Vol 40 No 2. Forthcoming from my collection, Ellipses, with Signature Editions.