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Hart Island

You would take the dead to a place like this -
Freight on a splintered shipyard dock,
Flowers to be borne across the dirty water
To the grove of the nameless.
By the good grace of the city,
By the sweat of a Riker's inmate,
Each fresh-sawn wooden box
scratched with red wax crayon
A655, G733, F/C for female child.

The mothers stand with ill-clothed children
Surveying cracked wood and choke-green water
a styrofoam cup discarded among the reeds.

In the guard shack,
TV blairing sports
grey desks fleeing the house of detention
short sleeve uniform shirts
worn on this winter pier
bolted to bits of jack pine and creosote.

A load of barnacles called the Glenda heaves to,
the ferrymen with blue shoulder patches
and forgiving smiles
stow these who cannot pay their way.
To grass split by trenches
Dirt, old as rust and pine
An indifferent wind reverberating through the twining scrub.

A fifty-cent-an-hour gravehand says,
"...takes some getting used to."
Flicks a Newport into the fifty-foot hole,
He is thirty-two and working off armed robbery
Though his years are infinite to a crate
That holds someone's last forever.

Stacked as high as a man is tall
Each becomes a landscape, a brief history
A moments worship in torn silence
Offered up to the passing glance of white foam and albatross.

Once a prison camp
A woman's asylum
A missle base
Now, this place... to bury strangers