Longreads Member Pick: A Stiller Ground, by Gordon Grice and This Land Press

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Thanks to Longreads Members’ support (join us here), we’re able to bring you outstanding stories from publishers and writers around the world—including today’s Member Pick from This Land Press, which is doing some incredible work out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and whose story by Kiera Feldman, “Grace in Broken Arrow,” topped our Best of 2012 list

Today’s story is “A Stiller Ground,” a devastating piece from Gordon Grice about the loss of a child. The story will be featured in an upcoming issue of This Land, and we’d like to thank them for sharing it early with Longreads Members. A brief excerpt is below.

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I walked in graveyards, gathering trash and fallen branches. I pulled weeds that obscured the names on old headstones, and when I was through, most of the names I’d revealed meant nothing to me. I took special care with the graves of children. I put the ceramic animal caricatures back on the stones they’d fallen off of. After a rain, I thumbed mud from the Lucite-covered photographs set in stones. I took the time to read a turn of the century marker made of crudely hand-lettered cement. On it was an asymmetric heart pieced from small stones. I subtracted compulsively: death year minus birth year equals age, give or take one.

I started, almost always, with the graves of my own ancestors and cousins. My mother’s mother, dead before I was born. Carved next to her name was my grandfather’s. He was still alive, though his name had been written in the city of the dead for thirty-four years. My cousin, a suicide at twenty-one. His epitaph declared his heart too big to last in this world. I read his stone with double vision: the disdain I’d always had for such sentiments; the tolerance I had now for anything, anything at all, to ease the pain. I walked along the rows, taking care of people past caring.

That was my daily routine. Sometimes the woman I loved would come with me. I envied her. She seemed to know how to grieve. To let herself feel things; to take time. She wrote letters to our stillborn daughter. She ordered photographs from the hospital and put them in a scrapbook. She talked. Most of these activities were strange to me, though I clumsily tried to emulate her for the sake of my mental health. I wanted to have my private scene at the cemetery, unwitnessed, and be cured for good, or at least for a little while.

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