The Cemetery Inside

I wasn’t sure, at first, why,
but his story transported me
to Loughcrew…

……….maybe it was his last name,
……….or his Irish accent,
……….or the way he described
……….the cemetery he carried.

When I arrived,
a faint drumbeat
in the background:


Rattling rattled,
then silence

It was cold;
the fog hovered
just above
a grouping of gravestones,
fairly fresh.

There were four,
……….maybe five.
The mist made it hard to tell.

No one had come to pray,
or weep there,
in a while.
The grass was too upright;
knees on these blades
had not yet been felt.

Then, I heard a small choir
whisper from the dead:
……….“This is not yours,”
it simply said.

I took a deep breath,
engulfed by the gravity of what I’d felt,
and knew it was time to leave.

This passageway could only hold
enough space at a time
for one grieving soul,
……….and he was ready to enter.

Notes from the interview that inspired this poem:

He was a surgeon who had worked in emergency medicine for thirteen years. He told me that he’d been contemplating the French practitioner Rene Leriche’s quote: “Every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray—a place of bitterness and regret, where he must look for an explanation for his failures.” He knew this feeling, intimately. “The cemetery in my head is still small–probably less than five–but I do carry it with me,” he said. “I wonder how much right I have to that second-hand pain when it’s not my loved one who has died?” He shared that physicians often talked about “cases,” but the experience of what it was like to carry this pain and grief was widely un-discussed and undisclosed. “Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go through the list–to look at each gravestone I carry with me,” he said.

As we were about to close our conversation, he reflected on a recent experience he had observing a trauma response in the E.R. “I can tell I’m progressing in my practice,” he said. “This time, I was observing, but not detached. Detaching is an old friend of mine, but this time I was present, focused, and connected.”

Interviewee: Anonymous, Physician
Listener Poet: Jenny Hegland

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