This week’s poem is a moving letter to a soldier who’s gone and an unflinching meditation on what happens when we die.

William Varner works as an editor for a book publisher in downtown Portland, and lives in South Berwick.

At the Veteran’s Cemetery

By William Varner

I stumbled, spilling beer and ash

Over your Croatian name,

The one my mother could never pronounce.

Drunk, too, for the funeral

An old friend of ours telling me

It was okay to cry.


Jeff, it’s summer’s end again here.

Thin stones, broken statuary

Over in the old part of the cemetery,

Grateful for the hum of the lawnmower

And the guy with red earphones

Scything his weedeater

Around dates and names

Bleached white from seasons.


The soul is not like smoke; it is

Amniotic, swaddled

In a hospital rag.

Dried. Then gone.

Caskets are a waste

Of good wood and money.

And carry only the living.

Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is poet who lives in Portland. Deep Water: Maine Poems is produced in collaboration with the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. Poem copyright © 2014 William Varner. It appeared originally in “War, Literature and the Arts,” 2014, and appears here by permission of the author. For an archive of all the poems that have appeared in this column, go to

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