Gålrum Gravfält

Barrow Cemetery, Gotland, Sweden.


I remember a passport photo, in with the coins and fish
in the fountain behind the National Gallery.

But now here, where the Goths came from,
I am the lost photograph and in the portal
of my bicycle’s basket I have my own wishing-well—
a bottle of mineral water, on its label a picture of blue
birches lining a transparent void lake; my camera,

my maps, my tissues because from the long flight
I am incredibly ill. Today I bike for six hours
in an upright sickbed inside a fever-dream
where a Baltic Sea island creates a road to move me
in an unwitnessed procession past actual milestones.

I’m on the way somewhere else but pull in
where I see a sign saying something here is historical.
Without the sign I couldn’t have known

but there they are: seven boat-shaped graves—

one with a motherly Juniper over it, its flat branch-clouds
hovering, unsure whether this is a grave, a boat,
a bed, or simply stones speaking stone.

I feel the tree is here for the dead or the living,
but somehow not both—either it gives
the grave a vigilant lid, or with silent green hands
delivers to us some mysterious advocacy.

Walking among the boat-graves, we must remind
the tree and stones of the fish before the fossils.

I know someone I don’t know has studied all this
but I wonder if the men who arranged these graves
were strangers deployed, tradesmen,
or did they weep as they placed these stones.


Drinks in Helsinki at the university
and somehow a little story
through which we grow envious
of an art historian’s deaf grandfather.
He tells us,

‘Grandmother shouted, Grandfather!
Do not throw ashes into the rubbish!
You have started a fire!

And then came Grandfather’s reply:
I cannot hear you!


Seven boat-shaped graves, five large stone cairns
and at the mouth of the path into this cemetery
the comparatively recent eighth century

picture-stone, relocated here
from elsewhere in the parish.

Its markings almost worn away,
it no longer matters where it is.


poet's biography —>