The Entrance to Graceland - Original Poem
Graceland Cemetery is the largest cemetery in Chicago. A verdant, peaceful place, it is filled with luminaries from Chicago history including mayors, congressmen, artists and wealthy entrepreneurs. When I was in high school my mother and I had a brief fascination with local ghost history. Particularly, the idea of unfinished business keeping a spirit in the human world was intriguing and we figured Graceland should have a lot of unfinished business associated with it's tenants.
However, it was not until I was out of college that we went to Graceland as part of a special tour commemorating the death of Scottish poet Robert Burns. One of his children is buried in Graceland and the Illinois St. Andrew's Society was making a pilgrimage to the grave to lay flowers and read Burns' poetry over it. I had no interest in attending this event but because it was important to my mother, I went begrudgingly and thus imposed upon myself an unwillingness to enjoy the experience.
As I sat on the coach bus alone while the rest of the group capered among the graves (really - I have never seen people so excited to be in a cemetery in my life) I began to wonder about all the other ancillary people buried at Graceland and that notion of "unfinished business" returned. Of the "common folk" buried there, how many of these people's fortunes might have turned into a marble monument if only given a small chance or opportunity otherwise denied? There was no one to tell their story. What would my own epitaph be? Would my life's story be lost when I died? I began to worry that I hadn't done enough with my life, and furthermore, that I never would. I had so much "unfinished business" I might be stuck in the spirit world forever.
It is hard to deal with one's own mortality, especially when you feel you haven't yet expressed your full potential. The Entrance to Graceland reflects on this and the unfinished parts of our lives that we all dwell on.
The Entrance to Graceland
The dead hold
no great thrill for me today
for in this place of growing things
I am reminded that immortality
often only follows mortality and that trait
is the one everyone in this ground shares.
And I cannot help but wonder
who these other people were
what they thought and hoped and wished
and were their dreams deferred
or realized as fact --
if they did dream.
And I acknowledge in myself
An ardent jealousy of stories
unrevealed and long-since lost
for my own fears of
dreams and hopes and thoughts
Not yet realized.
There is no calculation
for all the tears and somber songs
that dampened joy at life come to an end
And in this place where things are quiet
No voice will ever rise to speak
for those with simple stories in the dirt,
And all my hopeful thoughts
of many years along this road
are clenched in fear of the silence
that awaits me at the end.
I do not want that but I know
in this, the choice is not confined to me.
So in secret fear that life
is growing on without me --
That I lack all drive, ambition, talent
to be aught else but worn memorial
Passed by for grander statues,
in the end, the worth of dust
And should I fail to give to life
what these aristocrats gave to death
My sum of dust would well be lost
without fear of losing value.
Just hope and fear
and dreams that failed to grow.
This poem was written July 15, 2006. It has never been published. It is written in a prosaic style with some imposed structural rules.
Thanks for reading. Comments and critiques are welcome!