from Ghosts of India Road in Opelika, Ross Cemetery

By  |  May 24, 2019
“Wrap,” by Amy Herman “Wrap,” by Amy Herman

 

Before the posts linked by chains, from the asphalt, a bisected red corn snake’s snout points to Veterans’ Trail Loop. Before leaves beckoned bending into canopy, plastic  bags, straws, fast food wrappings lined the earth, sang as fallen leaves from the branchesthey flew to on some long and cold wind. Teenagers from the Presbyterian church thatcasts shadows down to this Black cemetery once launched a cleanup. The oaks and  mushrooms bring the forest back, tendril and root stepping over bodies. Now, turnedwine from yesterday’s offering clouds the space of an unmarked grave like summergnats. Behind this patch: the plantation house, white as summer nimbus. The trail’sshadows lash the rusty dirt in black bars. How many nameless converted have becomeclay where, where trunks pile?

Church bells cry
whitely
as seashells collect rain.

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The leaves won’t change this year 

            just drop. And now I’m naked

and now I’m O little blackbird
           
the stove needs wiping down,

there’s a ring of wine on the teak
            table. The books dusty

curl their covers
            in the slant of sunlight.

I point my feet to the door
            to invite the unmasked in.

Last night I saw a shadow
            as tall as a man

walk the forest line
            and disappear into the graveyard.

Last night I was the man
            who walked into the woods. 

 

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1834 the Mvskoke are marched from this country after forced assimilation and the revolt 
and ensuing Battle of the Red Sticks in 1813–1814, named for the vtvssv painted red. 

In 1832 the United States forces the Mvskoke people to sign what it called “The Treaty of 
Cusseta,” which forced Mvskoke people to cede their homelands east of the Mississippi 
River. 

Afterward they gave allotments to individuals. The United States government decided to
call the Mvskoke one of the “Civilized Tribes.” 

The United States has never been “civilized.” Settlers took advantage of Natives here in 
Opelika by encroaching on and squatting upon their newly delineated properties until 
forcing the Natives’ removal and relocation to what is now Oklahoma.

 

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the light shoots in slants

          citrus sun in shaft

the brown smell of leaves in decay

          yesterday’s rain now a ghost hissing in the leaves

it’s some glad morning I fly away

          a trinity: church bells, shadows of jesus, cast

a wretch like me

          a chorus of black dogs sings in growl 

do not point in a cemetery

          I point to failure, a cardinal rusts from my finger

slack my jaw in soil an eastern blue sunrises

          my legs slither in slant, two brown rat snakes

a shrew of a tongue

          incantation burrows beneath the rhizome of my grass skin

 

105 Mohabir2 BrinerPhotograph by Timothy Briner, from the series Waiting For a Ghost


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Notes 

(from Robert Bubb PhD and Jade Kinney who work to map and restore Jim Crow era African American cemeteries in Lee County, Alabama):

Fieldstones covered with velvet in emerald mark the heads of graves

a deeper depression in the ground means there was a casket that deteriorated causing the earth to cave in

shallower dents in the earth mean only linen shrouds wrapped the bodies

do not point in a graveyard

family leave ceramics and cups and seashells—anything that collects water 

the belief the afterlife was an ocean 

the depressions face West to East unless the buried was an apostate or non-Christian then North to South they lie

fallen tree shadows show indentations under their long lines that dip and bow if the earth is uneven

a single grave marked by a chunk of granite and a ring of fruiting red-berried shrubs 

the interred were in caskets post 1865

you must never point with your fingers


Rajiv Mohabir reads from “Ghosts of India Road in Opelika, Ross Cemetery”

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Rajiv Mohabir is the author of The Cowherd’s Son and The Taxidermist’s Cut. His book of translations I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara is forthcoming from Kaya Press.