August 30, 2018

Poetry Friday--Memento Mori

Memento Mori is translated from the Latin as "remember death."

Remember that you, too, will die. Remember that death is part of the circle of life. Remember those people death has taken from you.

It is not, as one may hasten to conclude, a depressing topic for short form poetry!

There is an interesting discussion about death haiku, which you can find at Charlotte Digregorio's blog where she has an interview with Robert Epstein. Epstein's new book is Checkout Time is Soon. It is a follow-up to Checkout Time is Noon. None of the sample haiku included with the post strike me as depressing. In fact, the one that begins "packing..." is quite funny! (Read more about Epstein and death poems here.)

I write about death all the time, although, if I write haiku, its brevity can lead to interpretations other than death. It all depends upon the reader and his or her own life experience. Here's an example from 2015:


© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

Text:

words not needed
the tempo of her rocking
delivers the news


I'm also fond of haunting (pun intended) graveyards. Visiting a well-kept cemetery is like spending time in a little-used park--peaceful and a great place to wander. I enjoy reading about the lives summarized on gravestones, and speculating about the true stories. Here are two graveyard poems from my files:

From 2017:


© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

Text:

graveyard
a dusting of snow changes
one's perspective


From 2014:


© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

Text:

followed by
a swarm of
mosquitoes
I read the dates
on the headstones
one after another

I find it interesting that when I wrote this, four years ago, I had never heard of the cherita form. I have since adopted the cherita as my form of choice. This poem, with a minimum of tweaking, could easily be a cherita! (If you're unfamiliar with the form, you'll find a definition on the right-hand side of the page near the top.)


The following I wrote recently. I used a photo I had taken in 2008 at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett, MA. I was doing research at the time for a subject in Women of the Bay State, Mary Eliza Mahoney. Mahoney was a child of freed slaves, was the first black woman in the U. S. to receive professional nurses training (graduated in 1879). She was buried in Woodlawn and I took photos of her monument for possible use in the book. While there, I took a gazillion photos of other markers and things that I found interesting. I've been using them as inspiration ever since.


© Diane Mayr, all rights reserved.

Text:

old graveyard

the littlest souls
with little markers

a marble lamb
remembrance of a child
too young for a name


Robyn at Life on the Deckle Edge is hosting the Round-Up this week. Be sure to stop by!

20 comments:

  1. They're all wonderful, Diane. My husband is interred at a beautiful old cemetery nearby, very old & also close to where I taught. I've taken students there for research, for writing, just as you have, ferreting out stories as we observed dates and names. They offer tours in history, trees, and architecture. Because of where you live, I'm sure you have noticed even older dates than are here. I am touched by your "littlest souls with little markers". It's true.

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    1. I went on a tour of a cemetery, many years ago, in Manchester, NH and it was the first time I learned of the "Spanish Influenza."

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  2. You are right. We should write about death. And it doesn't have to be sad or morbid or creepy. I will be taking students to a cemetery to do gravestone rubbings. They love this activity. The headstones tell stories.
    I was touched by your last one, "a child too young for a name." Two of my three daughters have had miscarriages and this line tells it all. It's still a loss, but such a different kind of loss that we don't acknowledge.

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    1. Stories abound if you take the time to find them!

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  3. You and I really need to live closer to each other. I'd go haunting graveyards and writing verses about them with you any day! Thank you for these lovely poems, and the link to Robert's work - he has such passion and energy for sharing it (on many topics).

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    1. I would welcome a haunting partner. Most people look askance at graveyards, and graveyard wanderers.

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  4. Excellent memento mori, Diane.
    We were visiting my father-in-law's grave earlier this month and my son noticed that someone who died in the 1950s had fresh flowers on their grave. Someone is attentive sixty-odd years later..sounds like a story.

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  5. We've taken to walking around cemeteries more in recent years, imagining the stories. Your final poem really grabbed me. Those small tombstones are heartbreaking--Often so many in one family.

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    1. They sure are heartbreaking. In the olden days a whole family could be taken down by the "bloody flux," or some other disease.

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  6. Love this all, Diane. I also like sauntering in cemeteries. It has inspired many poems for me. I was also blessed to be with both of my parents when they breathed their last, and although it was deeply sad and raw, it was sacred to share that very moment of a person moving from one dimension to another. It was in many ways like watching my grandchildren being born - poignant beyond the word ...
    I really like the rocking chair, and especially the littlest souls. You have probably read the Naomi Shihab Nye’s interview in TLD, she included a short little poem in her book Voices in the Air that I’m sure you love. Thank you Diane.

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    1. I saw the poem you're speaking of, and it is wonderful. A truth spoken in eleven words.

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  7. Bravo! I read Charlotte Digregorio's blog where she has an interview with Robert Epstein and commented there: Wonderful interview. You opened my eyes to looking at death in a poetic way.
    listen for me
    the wind through
    your buttonholes
    As for your Memento Mori poems, I see that you gave an inspiration tone to the first one that is such a beautiful visual for me, Diane. The last one gives tribute to the lives of the little ones that were on earth for a brief moment. I am also fascinated with cemeteries and intrigued by your research.

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    1. Thanks for your continued support, Carol!

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  8. Death is really the ultimate truth, isn't it? I mean, we're all going to die. That's why life is so precious. Thanks for sharing your poems!

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  9. These are all lovely--and such a refreshing perspective on death as a part of life. It seems we've gotten away from that. We used to take our 8th graders on a field trip to the local cemetery--combining art (with grave rubbings), history, and writing into the day. The kids always thought it the strangest thing when we first told them about it, but it often became their favorite activity for the year.

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  10. Cemeteries make me sad. Especially the smallest markers, the ones who didn't get to grow up. Lots of people like to make rubbings, I know. And the statues can be very beautiful.

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  11. I miss the New England cemeteries. I noticed some truly lovely ones in (old) England this summer. The selection of poems in this post are each uniquely poignant, Diane. The rocking chair probably hit me strongest today.

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  12. Your cherita on the "littlest souls" speaks with such sensitivity– I also liked
    "a dusting of snow changes"
    Thanks Diane.

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