The Old Burial Grounds
The Old Burial Grounds lie some two hundred miles north of our city. Amos Fortune, the village's first (but not last) African-American is buried here. N. and I have trouble locating his grave, but Willa Cather's is easy; its in the wet gold corner. The top of her gravestone is cluttered. Rocks. Plastic pens. A fist-size American flag. Her permanent girlfriend- who is often referred to as her 'secretary'- is buried, well, at her feet.
It's easy to imagine Edith Lewis as the love object in "My Antonia"; she is sun burnt and its sunset. The End is Beautiful? No, the threshold. My fantasies take a more tentative note when it comes to imagining Cather and Lewis' daily family life. This is not because they are women in love.
As a girl, I was bothered by the fact that Lewis' grave was not shoulder to shoulder with Cather's grave, that while Cather's was erect, Lewis' was small and flat, flush with the ground. The dimensions of their tenderness appearing small and flat as well. In 1984, when I would look askance at this grave, there was no Internet database quickly sketching out pre-fab analysis of any luminary's romantic home life. Fantasies generated from real world objects, the physical fact of them, and so my adolescent logic went like this:
Dogs have masters. Dogs curl at their masters' feet. Dog is a sweetheart is a dog at her mistress' feet.
And yet, I really liked My Antonia. And yet I really liked Cather's Victorian era buzz-cut. Like a Marine in prairie drag, plus pen.
At twelve, it was hard to reconcile the love of the letter versus the fear of inequality; I wasn't sure anymore of the tenor of Edith and Willa's lovemaking and the requisite slash and burn of daily chores.
But then there is this: in 1972, Edith dies 25 years after her "boss"; still, she chooses to be buried in the same plot. What do I know about love and servility? Gold leaves scattered across the flat stone. My fist catches fist-sized flag, then dispatches it. What does jingoism have to do with beautiful books or the death of writers or the miracle of a family of women? Do nationalists claim Cather? Is that good for lesbians or is that good for Patriotism? Both you say. Neither I say. My flag in my fist....remembering my old junior high fear that I would accidentally chant "I pledge allegiance to the fag..." It ends up being said. Someone loyal to something.
- Mary Walling Blackburn