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To a Friend at Rilke’s Grave in Raron
by Lois P. Jones
          Alles ist eins. ~ Rilke
The black-faced sheep
            are bleating, their bells

a soft song—a clinking of spoons
            in tin cups—a call to presence

when the world draws them
            into its map of the living. 

The pines trees know how the dark hum
            of a new season enters the lungs

like a promise. And if it is a promise
            how can it be sustained? 

I stand in bare feet near my rucksack
            and the grey slate path

to his grave. The mountains offer distance,
            the snow a memory of a life

I barely recall. Just the blue repeating
            of the Alps and from somewhere a chant—

three words that fall from the air
            as my shadow touches his grave.

And as I whisper them over and over
            I cannot say he isn’t present. 

I cannot say the dead don’t move toward
            what calls them. Only how the valley stretches

its worn jacket on the grass
            and begs me to stay. How my heart

is a spinnaker in the wind
            catching the breath of it. I linger as long

as I can—until the shadow of his cross
            escapes into darkness. I make my way back

through the mosaic of gravestones
            and the plots of bright flowers planted

near each grave. Cross the corner
            where the aspen trembles

and then I see you just as you are—awoken
            from the place of dreams and I cannot tell where

the soft green slope of the hill ends
            and your hip begins. I want to say

don’t forget her, she’s still on the hill,
            her body shaded from October sun—

her face in profile, arms resting on knees
            as she looks into the deepening vale.  

Aren’t parts of us buried in the lands we meet?
            Our souls broken into bones

sure as flint. There are foxes like wood smoke
            in the body. They move quietly in the forest.  

They know one of their own. They will find you.
            They will dig you up.

Finalist, Terrain Poetry Contest 2018, judged by Jane Hirshfield.


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