This Cemetery Is Quiet

It’s so, so quiet.

Up here, on the top of a mountain, I sit in the cemetery where some family members are buried. I hear a lot of crickets. And the wind blowing through the palms of trees, and the dried branches of tall corn stalks. Out of sight, waves crash on rocks.

After a while, my ears adjust, and I can just make out the hum of a motorcycle as it turns around a bend, and a truck engine gasp its way up a steep incline. Moving anywhere on this island, thrust up as it was so long ago by volcanic force, means always ascending or declining, gently or with force, in first gear or constant brake.

My father wanders the graveyard, looking for familiar faces, pictures preserved behind glass. Some are brightly colored and clear. Others are sepia-toned, faded; the three-piece suits and somber faces of generations past. He looks for family and friends of his. Those of my great-grandparents, my grandparents, my great-uncle and great-aunt, all who are interred in the family mausoleum my father and I have just brushed clean of cobwebs and spiders, gently wiping the plastic that shields silk flowers and picture frames.

Set on the highest point of my father’s village — Vila da Povoacao — the cemetery is maintained respectfully: the grass cut short, the stone walkways clean. It is peaceful, looking out over the town and the hills and the Atlantic, vast for hundreds and thousands of miles in front of us.

As I sit in the shade, waiting out my father’s wanderings, I take photos but smile at the otherwise useless iPhone in my hand. At this year, this need of mine to “escape” from things like social media and texting. I think of a time before those motorcycle and truck engines were on this island. How quiet it must have been, then. These crickets and this wind and these crashing waves are uplifting and restorative and fortifying. How magnificent must it be to hear truly unadulterated quiet?

This is the kind of place where painters come to paint. Where poets come to craft, line by line. Where novelists turn out one page at a time.

On this trip, I’m just breathing life into my struggling body.

Maybe on the next, those pages will be mine.


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