The Manhattan Review
The Manhattan Review
Established 1980

Archive > Vol. 9 no. 2


D. Nurkse

A Path in Grace


The keeper in the guardhouse
asked the name of the grave.
He licked his thumb and wheezed,
unfolding a huge map.

I wanted to explain: my hope
was to be lost among monuments,
not to see my father face to face.

But he ran his finger up immense avenues
and down frayed seams, murmuring:
Liberation . . . Grace . . . Ocean View.

I never listened to directions
and least of all to his. I nodded
until his kindness was satisfied.

He asked: when did your father die?
I wanted to say: forever
but sensed a trick: 1958.

He nodded—a gnarled Estonian
my age or my father’s—
and turned a wrought-iron key
in the brass-studded lock.

He waved. I waved back.
The door slammed. I heard him shouting
Good Luck! through the massive wall.

In the cold I smelled cabbage soup,
fresh black bread, garlic so strong
I had to blink back tears.
Ahead lay the serried graves:

obelisks, ice-sheathed,
bearing the legend Father,
small scattered stones
saying Child, constant snow

filling corners of letters,
beautifully articulating
the weld of my bootprint,

then erasing my tracks
so that I was lost
as I had prayed to be,
neither in limbo or resurrection,
Gethsemane or Elysian Fields.

Once I felt watched
and saw a rabbit peering
solemnly from behind a headstone.
When I knelt it bounded away
looking over its shoulder
with astonished reproachful eyes.
I wiped the grave with my sleeve
and read: I Love You.
We Will Never Be Separate.

Two yellow chrysanthemums
had shriveled to globes
of finely whorled dust
in a jug sealed
with a scrim of green ice.
Two massive bolted doors
led into the ground.

As far as I could see
angels hovered, cherubs,
headless victories, snow.

Somewhere, perhaps among the living,
a bell began pealing,
insidious, solemn, obsessive,
and there was no one left to tell
the echo from the final stroke.