Monday, September 27, 2010

Literary Pilgrimage

Raymond Carver, master of the blue-collar blunt American short story, is buried at the Ocean View Cemetery, overlooking Port Angeles and the Straits of Juan de Fuca. When I went to find his grave last Wednesday, it was the first time I’d looked for the grave of someone I admired, aside from the accidental run-ins with beloved poets and historical figures in Westminster Abbey.

I’ve always liked cemeteries. There is something about them that makes one feel both surrounded and also utterly alone. It’s the best place to be alive, the graveyard. Every step and breath and laugh and word emphasizes the quickness of us above, the silence of those below. I like to think that the dead cheer us on in our youth. Do something, they urge beneath the plastic flowers, the stone, and the mulch.

When confronted with the whole cemetery, we worried we wouldn’t find Carver. But in the end it wasn’t difficult: his grave was set apart from the others, marked by a double grave (the spot for his wife, Tess Gallagher, is empty) with a metal bower supporting plastic roses and poppies and other flowers, and a few rocks laid in the dip between the two headstones, as if to weigh down the spot with quiet.

Next to a small bench, in a metal box, we found a guide to Raymond Carver in Italian (Raymond Carver e un grande scrittore…), a letter from a recovering alcoholic who found Carver a major inspiration, and a small notebook containing letters to Carver and about him from fans, pilgrims, and Tess, who writes to him regularly and with more direct intimacy than I imagine many living partners express. Her letters were warm, poetic, knowing, melancholy – “our love”, she says. She writes about giving an award in Montevideo, about a cottage in Ireland.

We left our scratches in the book and a collection of his short stories in the metal box and took our leave. The day started with surprising brilliance, but as the afternoon wore on the weather settled into that expansive, grey brooding Northwestern weather, where everything is beautiful, but sad, because all things end.

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