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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Favorite. What does that mean, when you love almost everything you see at a place like Mount Auburn Cemetery? I'm always kidding Kris about pointing our her "favorite" tree or stone or house or public space. I love people with lots of favorites. I can say a bluebird is my favorite bird and then up hops a Carolina wren and the whole thing falls apart. It's like that for both of us at Mount Auburn.

But there are some stones and inscriptions that are singular. Poet David McCord graced this earth for a century, and left us with this verse:

From this gorgeous couplet I gather that Mr. McCord suspected that Mount Auburn would be his last stop; that he didn't expect to be hopping from cloud to cloud in his celestial reward.  I get that. Might as well go out with a good poem.

He wonderfully honored his mother, who lies beside him. It's a little hard to read, so here it is:

Whenever she spoke or laughed or sang or read aloud
There was music for a long time...

Kris took me to the Cambridge Public Library, perhaps her favorite renovation and one which I regret not photographing. Edward Lifson did it so very well on his blog; see his tribute. The exterior is a perfect meld of bricky ponderous old and floaty glassy new, and the interior is heart-racingly glorious. There's a dedicated young adult reading room, stuffed with just the kind of books (I call them shoe books) that Phoebe loves--and many others. You know, the kind with a high-heeled shoe on the cover. The children's section, Kris pointed out, is on the top floor, not buried in the dank basement as it so often is in public libraries. It's bright and spacious and colorful. And there in the high-ceilinged, sunlit space, she found and showed me a book of verse by David McCord, with his epitaph right there on the page. Kris, a Friend of the Cambridge Public Library, says she burst into tears the first time she entered the renovated space. "My tax dollars at work," she thought. Standing in the library's vast stacks, in a place I would gladly live, I could only drool. I'll probably never be able to afford to live in a place with a library like that, and besides, Cambridge is short on box turtles, morel mushrooms and Kentucky warblers. We all find our places. 

photo by Hodge

As a college student, I used to curl up between this sphinx's paws to read. Kris just sent me this week's view. Man, Cambridge can be gray in the winter, but Hodge climbs over the miniature glaciers in between parking spaces, navigates the multicolored pack ice of the sidewalks; keeps walking and noticing. She knows it won't be long before lilacs, and besides, she's genetically cold-adapted, an insanely talented skier.

All right then, I'm coming back to the concept of "favorite." I do have a favorite stone at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and once again, Kris brought it to me. It's the stone of poet Robert Creeley, born about when my mom was, give or take six years. Friend of Jack Kerouac, Jackson Pollock, Allen Ginsberg. I like this 1972 photo, where he's surrounded by breakfast clutter in what looks like student housing, everything scrounged from somewhere.

photo from

 Writer of 60-plus books and mentor to many. I'm not familiar with his writing...yet.  Except for one couplet.  There's a lovely passage in his Wikipedia entry:

In his later years he was an advocate of, and a mentor to, many younger poets, as well as to others outside of the poetry world. He went to great lengths to be supportive to many and he had great sympathy for 'ordinary' people. Being responsive appeared to be essential to his personal ethics, and he seemed to take this responsibility extremely seriously, in both his life and his craft. In his later years, when he became well-known, he would go to lengths to make strangers, who approached him as a well-known author, feel comfortable. In his last years, he used the Internet to keep in touch with many younger poets and friends. He was rather shy, somewhat cautious, but he was not at all afraid; he would stand up in situations where many others would not.

photo by Hodge

Which brings me to the other side of his stone.

The simplest of stones, the simplest of sentiments, and yet the one, of all of them, that moves me the most. 

Perhaps it's because, much as I love a good gravestone dog or winged death's head, there's no frippery in between the reader and the power of the poet's word. It's his advice, in seven words, for living in the moment and nowhere else. Kris and I, we look. My two babies know how to look, too. When they come back from a walk and drag me outside to look at the light of the hour, I know they are learning how to live. 

 Thank you, Mr. Creeley.


"As a college student, I used to curl up between this sphinx's paws to read."

As a young woman in Washington DC, I used to go down to the Mall in the middle of the night and sit on the steps at the base of the Lincoln Memorial to read. It did cross my mind to climb on up between his feet, but I thought I might be pushing the envelope a little bit.

Oh, you've done me proud, JZ. To think, I had it in my head that you wouldn't get to David McCord or Robert Creeley. Silly me.

You've made me very much wish that I'd taken some of these visits with you back in our college days, when you and Jim Coe had keys to the front gate, to let yourselves in whenever you pleased, for crying out loud! How did I not take advantage of that? Same way I forgot to go Yo Yo Ma's concerts, I suppose. I was such an ill-informed undergrad.

When I walk friends around the Mt. Auburn these days, it really does turn into a tour of my favorite things. And over the course of these six posts, you've hit almost all of them all--favorite tree, pair of trees, Civil War hero, poetry, resume, husband + wife, inventor, etc etc. I think the only category not given a nod to is my favorite quote, from abolitionist Charles Torrey, the guy who was jailed in Baltimore for the crime of helping escaped slaves make their way north. He died behind bars, but not before he wrote these words, which were duly inscribed on his tombstone:

"It is better to die in prison with the peace of God in our breast, than to live if freedom with a polluted conscience."

Take that, you slaveholders!

But you've probably got that post lined up and ready to fire off on Tuesday...

Truth be told, I'm sure there's some regular readers out there wondering when the next Chet fix is coming around. And it's probably time to give them their due. They've been more than patient on this visit to the Mt. Auburn.

love, Hodge/Kris

Posted by Anonymous January 16, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Oh, I smiled to see you there in the comments section, reciting McCord's verse (probably from memory). I was saving him for dessert, and Creeley too.

I remember your showing me the abolitionist's epitaph, and how perfect it is, but I neglected to memorialize it.

Which leads me to your next assignment, Agent 99.
Find a whole new slew of bests and favorites from the cemetery for the next time I travel East. We'll make a date of it, walk our legs off, give it its due once again.

I would be open to more fabulous trees and buildings of Cambridge as well. Cheese stores, that kind of thing. You can't visit them too much.

People with a sense of place are among my favorite people of all. As are people with many favorites.


That library link; I couldn't have posted a better example of the kind of architecture that kills birds. Window-collisions, I mean.

Profoundly moving. Thank you, Julie...

Thank you for sharing that - all of it. How very wonderful.

Beautiful! Dan

Posted by Anonymous January 16, 2011 at 8:10 PM

That's my very favorite thing in Mt Auburn too, and I was fortunate enough to have Kris show it to me. I shared a photo of it on my blog a while ago. What's more vital than what he exhorts us to do? Nothing. xox

Wonderful post! Yes those headstones you chose to share definitely provoke thought and reflection. But yes, Creely's is most moving. Thanks!

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