augury doggerel

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries

This city is founded on displacement. After World War I, after Versailles, it was declared a 'Free City', neither German nor Polish, though Germany and Poland each kept the place in its secret national heart. It had a mixed population, mainly German and Polish, Christian and Jew. By the end of World War II, the city was a pile of smoking stone, and all Germans and Jews were fled or dead. The borders were moved westward on the map, and then on trains and carts and backs. German cities became Polish cities, Polish cities became Ukrainian cities. Danzig became Gdansk, and no one cared what happened to a few stones with German or Jewish names carved in them.

I have stumbled (literally, in one case) on two neglected cemeteries near my home. An overgrown cemetery is a fine thing, green and weathered and vined and useless, a folly built on folly. The stones shift with the roots of unplanned trees, deep-rooted apples and chestnuts, and with raspberries red and purple.

I have walked a dog and laughed after a bicycling kid over a large flat of public lawn that must hide a million bones and buttons and pins, and I have slumped on asphalt in summer waiting for a bus where other bones were curled and waiting just beneath.

In the spring this city opened a cemetery of cemeteries, the Cemetery of Nonexistent Cemeteries. The real cemeteries are heaps of forgotten and overgrown stone or have been flattened to make parks, public squares, a bus station, a prison. But now we have this place with a name Borges would have liked, wedged in up near the bus and train stations, themselves soon to be cemeteries. The cars whiz by.


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