Don Colburn

Burial Ground near Piney Branch

You come upon it suddenly, no sign,
a fastness in the woods just off the fire road
on the way to Little Devil Stairs.
The woods are thick with sassafras,
greenbriar and shagbark hickory
but here give in to airy otherness,
outlined by stately Norway maples
around the square stone wall.
Within, more separate stones, upright
or tilted by weather and their own weight,
time’s heft. Step inside the iron gate,
take time to be alone with them:
headstones, field stones, polished, rough,
some that barely clear the ground.
The chiseled ones bear names
like Bolen, Gaunt and Clatterbuck—
folks who settled these hills and hollows
before the feds drew boundaries
around and through—and benedictions
cut in stone against eternity:
Asleep in Jesus . . . Gone Home . . .
Thy trials ended, thy rest begun.

Hyphens stand for lives between the years,
deciduous as autumn leaves.
Do the arithmetic: this one at seventeen,
that one a ripe old fifty-two, and over there
a child born on the day she died
or dead the day she was born,
you choose, you tell the story now. 

Don Colburn is a writer in Portland, Oregon. He worked for many years as a reporter for The Washington Post and The Oregonian and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. He has an MFA degree in creative writing from Warren Wilson College. His poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iowa Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest and Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Discovery/The Nation Prize. He has published four collections of poetry, including three chapbooks. His full-length collection,  As If Gravity Were a Theory, won the Cider Press Review Book Award, and his first chapbook, Another Way to Begin, won the Finishing Line Press Poetry Prize. His writing honors also include residencies at The MacDowell Colony and Yaddo, and three Pushcart Prize nominations.



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