Walking Beside the Cemetery, Olivia Street, Key West

Jacqueline Allen Trimble

The City Cemetery was established in 1847
on “high ground, sixteen feet above sea level” in Key West 
following the disastrous hurricane of October 11, 1846, 
where the then beachside cemetery was unearthed due 
to the winds and seas.
                                   —“Historic Key West City Cemetery,” City of Key West Florida

In Key West, the living surround the dead, 
who are the best neighbors 
silent and agreeable as well-swept porches. 
A fence that separates this world 
from the next keeps their restless spirits 
in or ours out. Do these dead know they are 
dead, lying in their own dead ghetto, their little 
houses stacked, neat bleachers, or lined up like 
rows of beach towels? 

Each morning the living rise like drowned 
voyagers from their beds, dreams, sleep slough 
falling from their eyes. They greet mortality 
a footfall from their door. What is it like to live 
among the dead? What is it like to rest among 
the living? Do the dead dream too? 
Do they turn their dead faces beyond the fence, 
like moths to fever and regret?

Once, the sea rose like an emancipator 
and pulled the dead from their parched 
slumber. Bones as needy as dry fruit rose 
like giddy children upon the sea’s fickle back. 
What joy that must have been, to ride 
the sea free of stone abode, to leap 
and turn like froth, like ash dancing 
among a living flame. In the end 
the dead were dead again, slumped in trees 
and elsewhere like drowned creatures, and the 
living were left alive again to bury and to mourn.

Copyright © 2024 by Jacqueline Allen Trimble. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 28, 2024, by the Academy of American Poets.