Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The burial ground at Orient, continued

A little while back I posted a photo and a bit of text about a moving burial ground at Orient, at the tip of the North Fork of Long Island, where many slaves who'd worked the oyster ponds there where buried, in graves marked with un-inscribed stones. The white couple who owned the oysterworks, as well as the slaves, were buried there, too.

So I was startled, just today, to come across this poem of Amy Clampitt's. It's one of those vast single sentences of hers, the poem held together through a single, forward-rolling, accumulating act of attention, She uses the Native American name for Long Island as a title -- Whitman's word for the place of his birth, too.


The humped, half-subterranean
    potato barns, the tubers
like grown stones, wet meat
    from underground a bused-in
moved-on proletariat once
    stooped for, where Paumonok's
outwash plain, debris of glaciers,
    frays to a fishtail,

now give place to grapevines,
    their tendency to ramble
and run on, to run to foliage
    curbed, pruned, trained
into another monoculture -- row
    after profitable row
on acre after acre, whole landscapes
    strung like a ither

where juniper and honeysuckle,
    bayberry, Virginia creeper,
goldenrod and poison ivy would
    have rioted, the wetlands
glistening at the margin, the reed-
    bed plumes, the groudsel's
tideline windrows a patina of
    perpetual motion

washed bh the prevailing airs,
    where driven human
diligence alone could, now or ever,
    undo the uninstructed
thicketing of what keeps happening
    for no human reason,
one comes upon this leeward, mowed
    and tended pocket,

last resting place of slaves, each
    grave marked by a boulder
hardly more than a potato's size,
    unnamed but as dependents of
Seth Tuthill and his wife Maria,
    who chose finally to lie here
    with their sometime chattels,
    and whose memory too is now
        worn down to stone.


Mim said...

Wonderful, Mark. Thank you. Rich and sad.

Paul Lisicky said...

That last stanza! "...hardly more than a potato's size."
And the opening--that list--sprawling like vines.