an encounter in Fredericton’s Old Burial Grounds (est. 1787) – by Albert Katz

5:30 p.m. and already dusk
in late  October , the wind chilly, the drizzle starting,
I take a shortcut to my home
walking the path through the old burial grounds,
laden with bags of groceries for the holiday feast

it is an eerie place
deep in the downtown core, a short walk
from the government building
head stones angled, or fallen,
names, dates, memories faded,

I walk past the cairn for the military dead
looming over the barely legible markers
of dead politicians and judges from our colonial past
during the summer, student actors
bring tourists through, telling ghost stories

now too cold, for such foolishness, the paths are covered
with yellow leaves, crunching underfoot, or, when blown in the wind, sounding like water trickling to a stream
the Union Jack flies high over the military cairn
crackles with the wind
a witch’s laugh

Feeling the chill, I hasten my step, adjusting the weight of the bags
from one hand to the other, and back again, when
I see a blob atop a small mausoleum, amorphous
in the deepening dark,  I stare,
see a man, face unshaven, prone in a sleeping bag,
tented in by his possessions
embracing them like a lover,  I stop
wondering if he had joined the dead in the burial ground

A twig breaks as I step closer, and his eyes open
red against the grey of his skin
white bristles on his cheeks
as he rises like a lion on its haunches,
gripping his sacks even more tightly

then, a gravelling warning,
“stay back”
loud, hanging in the deepening dusk
a threat I take seriously
as I continue toward the warmth of my home,
thinking of that man atop the mausoleum
the strength with which he clutched his sacks

and how those eyes seemed to proclaim:
“I may not be able to take them with me
when I too am planted in the ground, but
I’ll be damned if I’ll let them be taken
while I still breathe”

Albert KatzAlbert N. Katz (he/him; pronounced as “cats”; twitter akatzn) is a 74-year old retired Canadian cognitive scientist. His poems have appeared in a diverse range of literary journals, including Ascent, Dissident Voice, Pangolin Review, Rattle, and the /tEmz/ Review. His story “Hocus-Pocus” won the 2020 flash fiction contest from Kansas City Voices.