Old Burying Ground, Beaufort, North Carolina
Schoolchildren leave her their things—plastic bracelets, crayons, oyster shells,
sand dollars. We know only her surname was Sloo (rhymes with snow).
She had begged her father to take her along on a merchant trip to England
to see where she was born. She died the voyage back. He couldn’t bear to bury
her at sea and so procured a cask of rum and sealed her down in the barrel.
Her gravebed is strewn with Mardi Gras beads, fairy wands, lip gloss, pennies,
Dubble Bubble Gum, glow-in-the-dark stars. Schoolchildren say that a penny
laid at her grave is often flipped in the night. Headstones of brick, shell,
or wood in the Old Burying Ground. Hers is wood, as is the buried barrel
her mother refused to let anyone open. Winter rings of petals round the snow-
flurry camellias. Mermaid Barbie, silver glitter, Princess Body Mist. Buried
in the fetal position. We know her mother had never wanted to leave England,
had spoken often of her homesickness to the girl. And so this England
grew in the girl’s mind. Pastures. Steeples. Hot cocoa. English pennies
struck from pure silver for a thousand years. Great-grandparents buried
proper in the family plot. Had sung of walled gardens and cockle shells.
Her father took her to London where she heard church bells, played in snow
for the first time. But then she was rolled out of the ship’s hold in a barrel,
carried to her fine home that still stands on the waterfront. The barrel
reeked sweetly through the rooms. Why had she ever spoken of England?
The rum the girl displaced soaked the ship’s deck, her father’s boots. Snow
in the high Atlantic as he curled her in. No white burial gown, no penny
to place in her wedding day shoe. Honey liquor. A keg her wooden shell
in the pocket of eternity, rum loosed and seeping. Schoolchildren will bury
condolences beneath magnolia leaves on her grave. Her mother would bury
a length of black crepe wrapped round the barrel, the barrel, the barrel.
No further children, no. Plastic beach shovel. Chamber upon chamber, a shell
like a spiral staircase climbing heavenward. A fever aboard, English
or ocean borne. Dolphin key chain, Magic 8 Ball, starfish, pink ribbon, penny
flattened by the tracks. The endless pine-forest surround, and no Sloo
kin to lay beside. Her given name, a mercy, dissolved, underwater snow.
Grave like a parade float, marooned, lollipops, silk roses, Silly String, buried
in stuffed animals sopped with rain, flotsam of girlhood, find a penny
pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck. Forget me now. A barrel
and a heap and I’m talking in my sleep. Stars and Stripes and the Union Jack
staked in. Pick-up-sticks. Pearl nail polish. A necklace strung of shells
to keep a child close to home. Paper roll of pennies, a snowglobe. Shell
like a baby’s ear. Cockles of the heart. Why had she ever spoken of England?
In the bury of the ship’s hold, a cross of charcoal drawn to mark the barrel.