excerpt from Ghosts of Opelika, Ross Cemetery
Last week I learned ground outside of a church yard is not called a graveyard but a cemetery.
I have moved to Opelika, pronounced Obe-lei-ga according to Joy Harjo who spoke to
me on a car ride from Yosemite to Reno this summer. It means “big swamp” which means there are plenty of stories in the mud.
But what of the six foot by three-foot indentation in the rewilded patch where a black body must have lain? There is no church here of stone and lumber only the black cap fruiting body of a mushroom remains of the hymns that were sung to bless the night with peace, to the ones who live, palms stained with fistfuls of Mvskoke earth, to those who must still toil and till it. Who must write their own prayers, poor, in wet cement with sticks—brown and red and brown.
I went with a glass of wine
and at an indentation of earth
six feet by three feet
I spoke a prayer in Sanskrit, now settler-
Sanskrit because I have not asked
permission of elders to learn
the Red Clay language once spoken here
Letters to the South
RAJIV MOHABIR is the author of the poetry collections The Cowherd’s Son and The Taxidermist’s Cut. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of poetry at Auburn University and translations editor at Waxwing Journal.