Leningrad Cemetery, Winter of 1941That winter, the dead could not be buried. The ground was frozen, the gravediggers weak from hunger, the coffin wood used for fuel. So they were covered with something and taken on a child's sled to the cemetery in the sub-zero air. They lay on the soil, some of them wrapped in dark cloth bound with rope liek the tree's ball of roots when it waits to be planted; others wound in sheets, their pale, gauze, tapered shapes stiff as cocoons that will split down the center when the new life inside is prepared; but most lay like corpses, their coverings coming undone, naked calves hard as corded wood spilling from under a cloak, a hand reaching out with no sign of peace, wanting to come back even to the bread made of glue and sawdust, even to the icy winter, and the siege.
It made them think of the influenza epidemic of 1919, and how stories related to that tragedy are handed down in families. Of how bodies weren't placed in coffins, but merely
placed in a shroud. Bodies taken away to an island for an anonymous remembrance.
After reading said poem, one my students asked, "Alexis, do you like death like a lot?" I had
to think for a moment (because I had made them read The Black Cat, Do Not Go Gentle, Because I Could Not Stop for Death, and The Cask of Amontillado) to think about my
response. I realized that I had picked poems/short stories that relate to death because death
poetry and short stories usually have a lot of figurative language in them. This makes it easy for students to analyze for literary devices (oh metaphor!). Furthermore, death is a universal theme, of which everyone can relate. Reading about death, quite frankly, makes one think about their own personal experiences, and usually forces students to think critically about the poem or
short story at hand.
And there, my dears, is my story.