At Lacy Madden’s Grave
For my great-grandfather Lacy Madden on the occasion of the rededication of Mountain View Cemetery July 10th, 2009
At Lacy Madden’s grave I’m thinking
about the Battle of Vimy Ridge and Hannah Montana,
the pop starlet my daughter dreams of in hues of burnt sugar
and sass. I don’t know for sure if Lacy fought at Vimy
but I do know his regiment did and that he had left England
and arrived in Saskatoon only a few months before going to war
for this country that had just taken him in.
Lacy took a bullet and on the battle field a surgeon
shortened his arm and drew him a picture of what he had done:
so as to explain things to the doctor back home.
Lacy came back from the war and moved west, where
he bought a piano on Granville Street from a store
that closed and became a mortuary. So hear it is:
music and death and my daughter in my living room
pecking out Hannah Montanna on Lacy Madden’s piano.
Can you believe it? They were able to make pop music worse.
I’m trying to read the cemetery. I’m trying to forget Poltergeist
Zombie skin and the bitter Braille of horror’s myopic blunder;
and the poor young men who recently came to this cemetery
on a public day dressed as zombies only to be greeted by
a Filipino choir and a lecture on Chinese burial rights.
How do we take death seriously?
How do we find the funniest person buried in the earth?
The men from the Second Narrows Bridge are in the ground.
The Japanese Coolies who built the railway. Joe Fortes
who himself must have kept dozens of people out
of this cemetery.
I’m trying to imagine the cemetery as parchment.
I’m trying to see the punctuation and the minor story.
Harry Jerome crossing the finish line in ’64 but also the man
in the crowd who watched him do it but whose memories
weren’t preserved in the molasses of a bronze effigy,
but are instead kept in a shoe box to be sold at a garage sale
ten blocks south of here on some static Sunday.
Or I imagine the veterans whose headstones sat atop rocks
and the man who pulled up these rocks and trucked them
down to Stanley Park to set them into the seawall.
Where do we connect with the past if not in these acres
of peace in the city? This park, the lavender and an infant stream
where marble text knocks our lives down to haiku and sunshine.
There is a garden in the heart of the cemetery
where thousands of river rocks have been placed. I’m thinking now
of the importance of ritual and whether we think we deserve it.
Each of the river rocks is a marker for a child
to have their name on a stone whereas
until now their life has gone unmarked.
How does a death or a life change each stone?
A few years ago a man renovated the top floor of a house
in Toronto. He stripped and smashed the walls in and when
he found a package bundled in newspaper, it felt as light
as paper and he was sure he had found money but when
he cut the bundle open, he found a perfectly mummified
four month old baby, a little younger than one of his own children.
So after eighty years here was a stranger’s grief
over a child that was 50 years his senior.
And here think of loss. Think of the mother in the twenties
who wrapped her child in newspaper and her husband
who plastered that child into the wall.
I’m thinking of ritual: of naming the world in sugar and salt;
of hearing the blood thunk of a collapsing bridge; of tapping out a tune
on Lacy Maddens piano; of seeing Harry Jerome cross the finish line
so fast that he turned to bronze; of remembering a child
who died so young no one knows her grave.