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poetry The Burying Ground

An encounter with the mutilated statue of a freed slave leads the California poet Joseph Zaccardi to consider the names of those left nameless.

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The Burying Ground 

By Joseph Zaccardi

I follow a fire road to a dead end spot in a forgotten wood where a statue of a freed slave stands before back-dropped clumps and stretches of spruce and fir trees whose tips appear like an arrow’s fletching and though the plaque on the statue’s plinth was pried off this man’s right arm is raised his left hand hooked around chains his face knotted his bearing muscular and walking back the way I came my thoughts turn towards humans locked in cages towards where slavers on platforms auctioned off leg-ironed men and women and sold naked children who could not speak and who when they cried bidders and rabble alike wanted to know why they cried and how easy it is to forget the names of those made nameless by a twisted history and though penned words endure the weight weighs on unmarked graves covered by pavers set down for the living to walk upon. 

Joseph Zaccardi served as Marin County’s poet laureate from 2013 to 2025; Kelsay Books published his fifth collection of poetry, The Weight of Bodily Touches. Joseph says poetry came alive for him in the 6th grade when his teacher, Sister Francesca, gave him a small book of poems by W.C. Williams; a gift, alas, that he’s lost. Perhaps the power of poetry is that it stays with you, even when it is not with you.