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Visiting Mark Twain’s Grave in July
by Lisa Wiley

No epitaph, no jokes —
just your pen name centered and large,
legal name, birth and death dates
carved smaller above and below.
A little grass altar of pens poked

into the ground. A cigar,
Hard Rock Café Houston glass
stuffed with a dollar bill tip.
I won’t offer a formal prayer,
just bow my head as troubles

stream down like the mighty Mississippi.
Your smirking mustache
lifts my spirits as I deposit
a ballpoint in warm earth before
lighting out for the Territory.

PHOTO: Mark Twain’s grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira, New York, by Lisa Wiley.

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NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: While my family and I traveled throughout Upstate New York in 2018, we saw signs for Mark Twain’s grave, and on a whim followed them.  I didn’t expect to be so moved.  My children are accustomed to visiting literary landmarks as a hazard of my occupation. My uncle’s recent small, pandemic funeral prompted me to remember this summer visit.  Like Twain’s graveside funeral, his service was also brief and simple.

PHOTO: The author and her children in front of the Mark Twain Study at Elmira College, where Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and other works while summering in Elmira, New York.  (Wiley family photo)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lisa Wiley teaches creative writing at SUNY Erie Community College in Buffalo, New York.  She is the author of three chapbooks, including Chamber Music (Finishing Line Press, 2013). Her latest chapbook, Eat Cake for Breakfast, a tribute to Kate Spade, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press.  Her poetry has appeared in The Healing Muse, Journal of the American Medical Association, Mom Egg Review, Rockhurst Review, Silver Birch Press, and Third Wednesday among others. Visit her on Facebook and Twitter.