forest hills graveyard

Established 1880 in St. Elmo

BY CYNTHIA ROBINSON YOUNG

In the middle of a neighborhood cemetery,
amid the famous ghosts who could walk there
if they chose to rise again,

stands a black tree,
that, on sultry summer days
is black onyx against an indigo sky,

surrounded by Weeping Willows mourning,
Spanish moss draping trees
like haunted remains.

Victorian city park more than resting place,
where Dogwood and Magnolia lined paths weave
through the cemetery like veins,

a depot for those temporarily at rest. There,
among the green palette of trees
as diverse as the souls that lie beneath them,

African slaves buried alongside
their great -great grandsons, Black and free, yet
prematurely cut down by racism, poverty,

and now, each other,

still segregated even in death,
yet lying with their slave owners in the same southern dirt,
just over the hill, a few plots away.

This place for the dead,
more reminiscent of Eden before the Fall
than Savannah’s gardens of Good and Evil,

except for the Black Tree
eternally proud in the middle
of it all, isolated and alone

Families visiting the remains
of their memories
have given this tree a name:

Tiu-gr-gv-nah-ge,
L’abre Noir,
Der Schwarze Baum,
El Arbol Negro,

even The Nigger Tree.

It surrounds itself in fog, sometimes
mistaken for a shadow,
sometimes not seen at all.

Just before winter, its leaves fly away
like black crows departing,
leaving behind bare, arthritic fingers

pointing toward the earth,
a grassless circle of tarnished red clay,
hollow underneath.

Catalpa