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Elegy for the Gravedigger

Kate Schmidt

Elegy for the Gravedigger • Kate Schmidt


The handle of a shovel, worn light and smooth and rounded with use,

the oils of hands leaving a sheen on the wood.

A pair of boots dark with grave dirt,

waiting lonely by the door for the sun to go down again.

Your hands, callused as the shovel and dark as the soles of the boots,

were tired, so tired.

Still, they dug through the night. They knew the constants

of life: death and life, and digging.

A town needs graves like a garden cries for water in the heat.

You were there to oblige. Grave after grave, year after year.

If any townsfolk lived in the night, as you did,

they may have noticed:

The gravedigger, back hunched with miasma as he dug, eyes hung like lanterns in empty sockets.

He wore his best suit—the black holiday one, a little too loose in the shoulders,

paired with the tie gifted by his granddaughter, the color of morning sky.

Cemetery soil spilled over the spit-shone Sunday shoes.

But they didn’t notice, did they? They never do.

So your tired hands dug, and your tired feet clenched inside their holey socks,

and when the six-foot hole made a black door in the ground

you laid down your shovel in the dirt, let your hunched back rest, and went through.


The gravedigger dug his own grave, they said,

the old man, he dug his own grave.

Poor thing climbed right in and left this town,

high and dry, and one man down.

But which are you mourning, I ask them now,

The kind old man, the shovel he threw down?

The sky-blue tie or the churchyard grounds?

Mourn the gravedigger, or what he did for the town?

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