Friday, August 14, 2009

Post-graduate class reunion, University of Oregon, August 14-15, 2009


The fall of 1962, just newly arrived at the University of Oregon as an NEA Fellow, I was assigned an office in one of the barracks-like wooden buildings that faced the old Pioneer Cemetery at that time. Looking out my office window one day, I observed a boy, a freshman, I assumed, as newly arrived at the university as I was, wandering among the trees and tombstones (as I was fond of doing.) Turning from my translation of Beowulf or from my compilation of bibliographical notes for Prof. Kester Svendsen’s hated bibliography course, I wrote ‘Pioneer Cemetery.’

It remained forgotten in a notebook of the time, its final two lines extrapolated for what I thought a better poem (‘Solomon’s October,' Oakwood, vol 2, no. 2, Spring 1976, South Dakota University Press), until, looking at old notes in preparation for the August 2009 reunion of the post-graduate classes of the English Department at the U. of O. from 1965 to 1975, I decided to present it as a gift (for the first time made public) to my friends and colleagues attending the reunion.

U. of O. post-graduate class reunion dinner, August 15, 2009
© Dan Tannacito 2009

Pioneer Cemetery

(University of Oregon)

Sing ðu þæt leoð, scop

Requiems bristle fir-high
among the withered stones
scarred with a rune,
hint to some brittle thigh
instituted in a house of bones.
----Outside a boy whistles a tune.
----He leaps the hurdle of an age-old love
----carved into stone with a chipping word,
----smacks the cracked tail of a marble dove,
----and answers the call of a quicker bird.

From viridescent masks of moss
bibliographies of in-memoriums show
the blunted digit of a date.
----The boy registers it for some future use,
----turns a mushroom with his toe,
----and thinks the word “fate” —
--------and, inexplicably, the word “abuse.”

Lichen endorses wrinkled petroglyphs,
pledges the rain endeavors to efface,
denying pity from the whip-lunged God
whose symbols are the eye and the crossed sticks.
Wild queen-Anne’s lace
breaking from the tangled sod
tumbles the stele with its root,
reclaims to dust monuments to a grief clock-worn
in elegiac fragments phrased in pious alphabet
caressed by fumbling grass and a youth’s boot,
Braille-read by the black cricket and the yellow thorn.

----He stops to light a cigarette
----and drops upon a tablet the used match,
----half-reading words half-shrouded by the sward,
----and spits his spite through a cracked tooth,
----but hesitating turns to catch
----from the colloquial language of the Lord
----some allophonic truth.

------------------------------------------(October 1962)

------------------------------© Rafael Jesús González 2009

Pioneer Cemetery, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon

Rafael Jesús González teaching Honors College Creative Writing,
University of Oregon (New World Coffee House) Spring 1966


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