from Lee Sharkey, Calendars of Fire
When I held the plate, I held the ones who remembered the plate
Of all those who remembered the plate, I still remembered
Women are for homes and opened graves
This excerpt lacks extravagant linguistic figures, profusions of detail, or lavish description. Sharkey offers only spare, direct statements that seem Quakerish in their simplicity. She draws on resonant images: the numerous unseen owners or hungry diners who have held the plate, those who still remember the plate that the speaker holds. The poem reminds readers that such plain and common objects connect us, our stories, and our memories. A plate is a possession, but this plate is also an object that possesses (haunts, has power over) us.
But what to make of: “Women are for homes and opened graves.” Open graves? No, opened graves—far worse. Someone, or something, buried and then exhumed. The earth opened. The dead are revealed. The poem suggests a subtle connection between the act of remembering and the opening of graves. Why would anyone open a grave? To relocate the body? To add another body or a possession? To solve a crime? To steal from the dead? To study burial practices? To prove that a death has indeed occurred? Or like Mary Magdalene and Mary to discover the missing body of a resurrected Christ?
“Women are for homes and opened graves.” Maybe the poem points to the traditional role assigned to women—shaping domestic life, homebuilding, caring for family—and places it alongside another role given to women: bearing witness. Mourners can never put grief tidily to rest or seal its tomb. It is in many ways like the plate, a simple possession. We bear our grief and remember those who also grieve, and those who lost the very same things that we have also lost, who wait before opened graves.
Lee Sharkey, Calendars of Fire. Tupelo Press, 2013.