While in graduate school I lived close to a cemetery, and the dead sent me greetings—bouquets of plastic orchids and wilted lilies blown by hurricane gales to my front yard, placards memorializing the dead, and small white squares of paper inadequately expressing the overwhelming sense of grief and sympathy felt at such a time. All of these absconded from their final resting places to litter the grass that led to my door.
And the cemetery is old and abandoned and condemned by the city, so no one goes there anymore, and in Lake Charles, Louisiana, the dead are buried aboveground in concrete tombs where the bodies are tossed inside and a lid slid over the top and sealed. I wonder if the seal keeps the water out or the spirit in.
But the barrier never works.
I walked to the cemetery and took pictures to send my councilman to protest and ask the city to clean up the graves so the fake and dead flowers would not litter our streets and yards. A chain and padlock prevented my opening the gate, so I stepped around it where the fence had fallen and separated from the posts. I wondered if the barrier was meant to keep people out or the spirits in. [End Page 119]
I took pictures of the tall grass, the ancient mausoleums and crypts. Worn paths traversed the area, and nailed to a tree I found a sign that read: Condemned by the City. No Trespassing.
The tops of many of the tombs were ajar, some shattered by the brute force of sledgehammers—allowing the elements unobstructed access. The debris had long since disappeared, and once again I couldn't tell if the force came from within or without. But the violated seals of every vault and the fractures in the lids left femurs and fibulas exposed to prying eyes. Brightly colored cloth partially hid the skeletons and gave the crypts an eerie feel of Carnival. I wondered if they ever came to life and moved and danced in the shadows of the moon. How thin the membrane must be that separates the dead from the living. After all, the barrier can be pierced with one last breath.
Is it as easy to come back as it is to cross over?
All of the skulls were gone except a small piece on top of a crypt lurking in the tall grass along the back fence—the skullcap seared by incense or fire.
In the west I saw a glow like a candle. The evening sun had dwindled. Taking pictures now seemed a waste of film, and this was not a place I yearned to be after dark.
The next day in class, I revealed to my colleagues my discoveries in the cemetery.
Corliss Badeaux leaned over and whispered to me. "Did you go to the Orange Grove Cemetery, the one condemned by the city?"
"It's practically part of my front yard," I said.
"You need to move." [End Page 120]
C.D. Mitchell has an MFA with concentrations in fiction and creative nonfiction. He has worked as a tracklayer and bridgeman for the Union Pacific Railroad, a building contractor, a fry cook, and was 45-5 with 38 knockouts as a professional fighter. His website is www.cdmitchell.net. He teaches at Arkansas Northeastern College.