What Is It That You Seek: A Cemetery Reflection for Halloween

by Liam Heneghan

Battered by thoughts of finitude, by thoughts of decay, my confidence ebbs. I come now to this place; I come to this cemetery. Mere weeks before was I not as light as a seed-filament, I who am so preoccupied by unknown fates, by sepulchral dreads, by nostalgic aches for the rose-scented afternoons of summer?

O summer days, where now is your exuberance? Did I not assure my love that we would endure, that our lives would go from strength-to-strength, that hardship had been banished?

My frailties assail me at every turn; each gust of autumn wind seems a gasping breathe from some uncanny place. Trembling I turn and know that my grave has been shadowing me in weather fair and foul. Here I am in this cemetery on an October day. Why can’t I flee? Run, run, run while you still can! Yet here I remain, moving now with trudging gait alongside these gravestones. Beneath my feet, these downed leaves, each like a sail on the boats of summer, now sunk, drowned, and rotting in the brine. I ask you, silence, why have you drawn me here?

The silence responds.

Friend, it is you that has sought me out; I would fain leave you be. You will join me in the silence in good time. But while you glance this way, will you not permit me a word or two? In your more effervescent moments, you delight in life, but surely it is I that furnish you with those moments; I provide for that delight. Does not my diaphanous margin make concrete the very limits of your life? I give you your shape; I give the measure of your time. Do you not, besides, prosper from my toil? I am a mirror without reflection. I am a shadow made talkative by the shadow’s shadow cast upon your mind. You scream, I am silent; you conjecture, I am silent; you plead, I am silent; you ponder the silence, I am silent; you turn away, I remain silent. In this my silence pause now and hear the gurgling of decay, listen in upon the brick-placed-upon-brick as the living consumes the rot and sways towards the sun. Listen to your own thoughts fathoming the silence.

You are quiet now, friend. You fall silent. You fall silent. What is it that you seek?

October 18th 2018, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago

(An audio version of this essaylet is available here.)

Liam Heneghan’s briskly selling new book is Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children’s Literature (University of Chicago Press, 2018) available here. He tweets @DublinSoil