"Materials for a Gravestone Rubbing" by Matthew Wimberley

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January 10, 2023 

Materials for a Gravestone Rubbing

Matthew Wimberley

I have long wanted to be starlight in spring
and the late snow that lingers there, coming down
at Harpers Ferry over the river or gathered 
on a windowsill on third street in Brooklyn 
when I was twenty-two—the potpourri 
of sky the wind carries after a storm. 
The gray darkening on a far ridge. If you are reading this
there is still a way. I can take your smooth palm in mine
and lead you toward a distant city and a night
when you were on the mountain and dreaming of the other world
and we can walk together past the pre-war homes 
converted now to low-rent apartments for college students
or workers come in from long days on a road crew,
coveralls draped over the backs of kitchen chairs
and the light swaying just so. We can go on—
along the cracked sidewalks above the train tracks
that can’t exist again even as the grasses come up between them
and look through a fog and a single pair of headlights
making definite beams in the material cold. 
No moonlight to get netted up in on the surface of the water
no traffic at this hour just the scraps of paper blown
into gutters and the electric hum of streetlights,
a few voices, which almost walk like footfall down alleys
overgrown with briars and creeping vines, their crude
latticework against the brick and the exhale
of a bartender on a smoke break and the smoke
which still drifts. Now it must be all worn through
but then it was barely remarkable though I stop
to look back at the homes and at snow melt on roads
the flat glitter on the black road, the moiré pattern 
yet to be captured by language—and for a minute believe
in something as my stepfather believed in the smell of fire
whenever he left in the middle of the night
and returned before dawn and spoke to no one, didn’t
wake anyone up. Sometimes I feel that alone, 
that pure, as if looking back at myself
through the scrim of time and you are there 
standing in our kitchen at this hour and I can almost 
hear you and the first singing caught-up there in the back 
of your throat. Lately I’ve stopped worrying about the end. 
Each day my hand is smaller on your shoulders. New birds
still return and the hillsides green all around, the stars 
have traveled over the horizon and in the blink 
of an eye you are here—grape-vine charcoal in your hand;
little hyphen I have become.

Copyright © 2022 by Matthew Wimberley. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 10, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.

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“I began writing this poem last year on a drive north from my home in western North Carolina, cataloging images as they appeared. It was the snow at Harpers Ferry that opened the way for me to move through other moments in my life, things I thought of as ordinary, overlooked. Months later, in a little cemetery beside my daughter’s preschool, this poem finally came together. The poem is a confrontation—not with death, but life, and is a kind of conversation between a parent and a child.”
Matthew Wimberley

Matthew Wimberley

Matthew Wimberley is the author of Daniel Boone’s Window (Louisiana State University Press, 2021) and All the Great Territories (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). He is an assistant professor of English at Lees-McRae College.

Daniel Boone's Window

Daniel Boone’s Window
(Louisiana State University Press, 2021)

“Beyond the East Gate” by Daniela Gioseffi
read more
“The Secret of Light” by James Wright
read more

Thanks to Tyree Daye, author of Cardinal (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read or listen to a Q&A about Daye’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year.
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