Right Present for a Dead Writer?

December 12th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

Cummings offerings

Oh what, oh what do you get the dead for Christmas or Hanukkah?

Our Forest Hills is not quite Paris’ Père-Lachaise cemetery (cimetière de l’Est), where admirers leave booze, lingerie and more on the stones of singers and actors. Being Boston, we do have our own low-tone versions though.

Two I stop by on occasion are poet e.e. cummings (EDWARD ESTLIN CUMMINGS on the stone) and playwright Eugene O’Neill. Clearly, others have preceded me.

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O’Neill StoneFinder Tips: Their corpses rot less than 100 yard away. Directions to the Cummings site are here. The O’Neill plot is off Chestnut Avenue at the bottom of the H on the same map fragment.Tucked in rhododendrons, the large, erose stone is not easily visible. Look instead for the SEARS/ROBBINS/LOREY marker. Eugene and Carlotta lie beyond that.

Cummings is the sentimental favorite here. O’Neill was clearly brighter and the better literary artist, if far inferior in tapping into public themes as well as promoting himself. His work was almost entirely brilliant, but far less accessible to the love-rapt and to the melancholic.

Snark aside, I have always enjoyed Cummings and can quote quite a few of his lines. In addition, I find him almost Japanese and haiku-like in his seasonal and nature references. In a few often odd but not strained words, he can link emotion and environment.

Cummings is buried between his mum and Marion Morehouse, who may have been his third wife.  His quickie Mexican divorce from Mrs. #2 was not U.S. legal when he and the model wed. It terms of relative immortality, it pays to be the last spouse.

By the bye, UUs claim everyone who tilts a head our way more than once. Cummings did more than that.

Stones for O’NeillLike bus and subway riders, Cummings and O’Neill pilgrims differ. In the case of those who visit the graves, they bring and leave disparate objects. I have seen and heard folk reading Cummings poetry at his grave, often giggling and often being, well, young. Scholarly types are more likely to visit the playwright, and do so less frequently.

It’s obvious that many more visit the poet’s site. While the grounds crew does remove gifts/debris, they are not janitors. Expect to see coins, beads, tiny river stones and pretty good sized rocks. This week, a sad, wilted, tiny poinsettia was there; it plainly did not care for the cold. On either side were two copied Cummings poems (into the strenuous briefness), each decorated with simplistic flower drawings and held ephemerally by a rock.

The offerings too differ for these masters. Those on O’Neill’s marker is similar to the Holocaust memorial downtown. The typical artifact is a respectful stone, a traditional and somber mark of respect. There are no gifts around the stone, only on top.

Otherwise, at this cemetery there aren’t many notables with gifts, even at Christmas. For example, Albert Augustus Pope’s crypt is there. He created the usable bike and the industry, but I never see pedals left for him. He’s a stumble away from restaurateur Jacob Wirth, but that tomb doesn’t have leavings of beer steins.

Instead, if you travel down north a couple hundred yards to the new section near Morton Street, there’s offerings galore. The Asian-American (and some Italian-American and African-American) stones have lots of goodies. Chinese descendants particularly get paper representing heaven money and many such traditional treasures. Personal notes and artifacts appear, at least temporarily, on others.

In death everyone can be famous, at least to those who already know them.

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