the louderARTS Project

BJ Ward

BJ Ward’s third book of poetry, Gravedigger’s Birthday, was a finalist for the Paterson Poetry Prize. His two earlier volumes are 17 Love Poems with No Despair and Landing in New Jersey with Soft Hands. All three volumes are published by North Atlantic Books (Berkeley, CA).

Mr. Ward is the recipient of a 2004 Pushcart Prize for Poetry and a 2003 Distinguished Artist Fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts. His poetry has been featured on National Public Radio and Poetry Daily, as well as in publications such as TriQuarterly, Poetry, Painted Bride Quarterly, Puerto Del Sol, Mid-American Review, Natural Bridge, Poet Lore, The Sun, and a host of other journals. His essays have appeared in The New York Times and The Worcester Review. In 2002, one of his poems ("For the Children of the World Trade Center Victims") was cast in bronze and acquired as part of the permanent collection at Grounds for Sculpture, an outdoor sculpture museum in Hamilton, New Jersey. He has been a Geraldine R. Dodge Fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. This school year he is a Visiting Professor of Literature at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, NJ. He also teaches at The Frost Place in Franconia, New Hampshire.



Gravedigger’s Birthday

We had only dated for three weeks
but there I was, burying her cat.
To top things off, it was my birthday,
but I knew the cat’s death trumped it
so into the ground I went,
never having dug a grave before
but knowing I should know how.
Such an ancient, simple action,
as if our bodies evolved to do such work—
opposable thumb to dig and dig
deeper into the earth, and standing erect
to toss soil from our graves. I remembered
something from somewhere—boy scouts
or horror movie—delve deeply enough
so raccoons can’t stir up the corpse.
I did it all quietly with a sudden solemnity
not for the cat—I barely knew it—
but for the motion, the first ancestral thing
I had done in years, aware this was traffic
with old gods. The indifferent stars pinned
the lips of the grave open, and I lifted up
that solid eggplant of a body, and lowered her
carefully into the soil, as if the cat could feel it,
or the earth could. Ridiculous.
Then I lifted up that shovel, again
knowing what to do—load upon load
into the earth, back onto that body,
returning it but also casting it out
of my modern life where I would soon take
the short walk from the grave to the house,
eat some meat without thinking
of eating the meat, get in bed
next to my new, warm, mourning girlfriend
on a mattress imported from far away, some speck
of the grave’s dirt rising behind a fingernail
as I lie awake, the faint next click
of my life’s odometer there in the darkness,
living and dying at the same time,
thinking how so much motion and instinct
lies inert in the earth next to the swing set,
and how the ground’s new toothless mouth
settled into closure without pomp,
temporary and permanent at once.

(from Gravedigger’s Birthday [North Atlantic Books, 2002],
originally published in Puerto Del Sol)



© BJ Ward



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