from Ghosts of India Road in Opelika, Ross Cemetery
By Rajiv Mohabir
“Wrap,” by Amy Herman
Church bells cry
as seashells collect rain.
The leaves won’t change this year
just drop. And now I’m naked
and now I’m O little blackbird
the stove needs wiping down,
there’s a ring of wine on the teak
table. The books dusty
curl their covers
in the slant of sunlight.
I point my feet to the door
to invite the unmasked in.
Last night I saw a shadow
as tall as a man
walk the forest line
and disappear into the graveyard.
Last night I was the man
who walked into the woods.
1834 the Mvskoke are marched from this country after forced assimilation and the revolt
and ensuing Battle of the Red Sticks in 1813–1814, named for the vtvssv painted red.
In 1832 the United States forces the Mvskoke people to sign what it called “The Treaty of
Cusseta,” which forced Mvskoke people to cede their homelands east of the Mississippi
Afterward they gave allotments to individuals. The United States government decided to
call the Mvskoke one of the “Civilized Tribes.”
The United States has never been “civilized.” Settlers took advantage of Natives here in
Opelika by encroaching on and squatting upon their newly delineated properties until
forcing the Natives’ removal and relocation to what is now Oklahoma.
the light shoots in slants
citrus sun in shaft
the brown smell of leaves in decay
yesterday’s rain now a ghost hissing in the leaves
it’s some glad morning I fly away
a trinity: church bells, shadows of jesus, cast
a wretch like me
a chorus of black dogs sings in growl
do not point in a cemetery
I point to failure, a cardinal rusts from my finger
slack my jaw in soil an eastern blue sunrises
my legs slither in slant, two brown rat snakes
a shrew of a tongue
incantation burrows beneath the rhizome of my grass skin
(from Robert Bubb PhD and Jade Kinney who work to map and restore Jim Crow era African American cemeteries in Lee County, Alabama):
Fieldstones covered with velvet in emerald mark the heads of graves
a deeper depression in the ground means there was a casket that deteriorated causing the earth to cave in
shallower dents in the earth mean only linen shrouds wrapped the bodies
do not point in a graveyard
family leave ceramics and cups and seashells—anything that collects water
the belief the afterlife was an ocean
the depressions face West to East unless the buried was an apostate or non-Christian then North to South they lie
fallen tree shadows show indentations under their long lines that dip and bow if the earth is uneven
a single grave marked by a chunk of granite and a ring of fruiting red-berried shrubs
the interred were in caskets post 1865
you must never point with your fingers
Rajiv Mohabir reads from “Ghosts of India Road in Opelika, Ross Cemetery”