outside the town of Malbork,
leaning from the steep slope
without fear of wind or vertigo,
looks down in the gathering darkness
in a network of lines that enlace,
in a network of lines that intersect
on the carpet of leaves under the moon
around an empty grave-
What story down there awaits its end?
Wasn't winter. It was a severe clear spring day. Wasn't outside Malbork. It was outside Morristown. There was a steep slope, but no fear of wind or vertigo. The gathering darkness was entirely metaphoric — the sun was coming up, not going down. No networks of lines, no carpets of leaves, no moons. The grave was full.
It was the last line of this poem that I remembered at the grave. What story down there found its end?
The gravestone was difficult to find. I located it only after praying for help, which arrived in the form of a cemetery manager who "just so happened" to drop by her office on her day off. When I mentioned whom I was looking for, the cemetery manager said, "Oh yes, the M----/I------ stone," and she told one of the groundskeepers where to find it and to point me toward the grave. I thanked them and started off.
Once I got there, I could hardly look. I glanced at the name on the stone. My eyes instinctively shut. It was no mistake. In all its finality, right here in front of me, not some abstraction, not some memory, not something to be denied. I sat down, my eyes still shut. Then I got up my courage, and forced myself to open my eyes and to read the writing and to see the story down there that had reached its end. In other words, a moment of blinding, seering pain.
Eventually I looked around. The location was beautiful. It was on a hillside, in an old section of the cemetery, in a special grotto overlooked by a statue of Our Lady of the Assumption. The headstone was big and heavy and I understood why the cemetery manager remembered it so easily. It was no doubt a premium stone. Cindy's maiden name was written on one side and her married name on the other, a testament to her married-but-filing-for divorce status. Buried 10 months ago, the earth still hadn't settled flat as with the older graves next to it; there were a few planted flowers starting to sprout and uneven blades of grass coming up.
There were no flowers from visitors. Some others had Christmas and Easter gifts from the family to Mom, but Cindy's didn't. The only thing around was someone who had known her 23 years earlier and not forgotten that he had once loved her, and he believed that she may have briefly loved him back, and that the story had several unhappy endings. How can you lose what you've long lost — and almost forgotten? The answer was right in front of me.
There was one more element I'd like to share. The gravestone had a butterfly on it, right where a cross would normally be. I didn't get it at first. Cindy wasn't a butterfly person, and not one prone to collecting cute stuff or putting butterfly stickers on things like that. On the way home, in my car, I think I understood. Cindy wasn't a butterfly person, this wasn't a favorite thing of hers to remember her by: Cindy is the butterfly. That's what her family was saying. They'd known it for years, for her whole life, during her depressions and struggles, her ups and downs. I've compared Cindy to a diamond, but diamonds are hard. Butterfly is right. Beautiful. Fragile. Short-lived.
I won't tell you what I said grave-side. I said the thing I came to say, and paid my last respects, and prayed for her. If God answered my prayers to find the grave, which I believe he did, I have faith He will answer the others.