Grave Spotting

By NINA MACLAUGHLIN  |  June 16, 2010

Love's not tired. Life's no task. Slam dunk every gum wrapper, as Holmes would have it.

Go west!
West of the city lies Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which sounds like it was lifted straight from a New York folktale (headless horseman, old Ichabod, etc.). But the place exists indeed, in Concord, and it's home to a Massachusetts literary power quartet. Louisa "Little Women" Alcott, who allegedly had an opium itch, is buried here. (Maybe we can hook her up with Creeley's posthumous e-mail address?) So's Ralph Waldo Emerson, father of all that transcendental thought. His pal Thoreau has his grave here, too. "Every creature is better alive than dead," Thoreau suggested. "Men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it." Nathaniel Hawthorne, great illuminator of Puritanical New England, is also buried on Authors' Ridge.

Slightly further afield, heading west in Massachusetts, you'll find poet Elizabeth Bishop in, of all places, Worcester, at the Hope Cemetery there. And there's Lowell, of course, where favorite son and Beat king Jack Kerouac rests eternally. Why I didn't make that pilgrimage as a 16 year old, I don't know. I'm still a little embarrassed to admit that he provided my high-school-yearbook quote. (And no, I'm not saying what it was.)

In Amherst lies the always strange Emily Dickinson. Though she's been hard to approach for me, she's one to inspire ardency. "Afraid?" she writes. "Of whom am I afraid?/Not death; for who is he?/The porter of my father's lodge/As much abasheth me."

That porter must've been quite the badass.

North, east, and home again
There's plenty of other authors spending eternity throughout the state. North of Boston, up in Haverhill, short-story hero Andre Dubus is buried at the Greenwood Cemetery. So is John Bellairs, who terrified me as a kid. (Does anyone else remember A House with a Clock in Its Walls?) He doesn't scare me any less, staring at his grave.

If you're down in Provincetown, you can pay your respects to macho man Norman Mailer. Or drive around Beverly Farms, where literary lion John Updike's ashes are scattered all over the place.

Back at home, Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American woman to publish a book, is buried at Copps Hill Burial Ground in the North End. And Henry James, a/k/a "The Master," is buried in the Cambridge Cemetery. Keep his words in mind as you explore the literary dead this summer: "The right time is any time one is still so lucky as to have."

Last summer, I made a mission to the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, almost as lovely as Mount Auburn, to find the grave of E.E. Cummings. I'd long dismissed him for his grammatical gimmickry, but realized, late, that mixed in with the lower-casing and tricksy punctuation, are provocative, passionate, sensual poems ("i like my body when it is with your body"; "muscles better and nerves more"; "the thrill/of under me you so quite new").

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the grave. Forest Hills was out of maps, and the paths mazed all over. E.E. would not have been ruffled by such an experience. "Life's not a paragraph," he wrote. "And death i think is no parenthesis." As these authors prove even in repose, nor does death have to be a period.

Nina MacLaughlin can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.

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