Karim Ragab

A Tour of Lakeview Cemetery

Northeast · Little Italy · Poetry

Every morning in the summertime I take a long walk around Lake View Cemetery. Lake View is an old garden cemetery, established from 1868–1870 by a group of Cleveland businessmen, including Jeptha Wade, Henry B. Payne, and Joseph Perkins. The first plots were in use by October 1870. Over 100,000 people are buried in the bounds of Lake View. Over 100,000 stories reached their final end there. Some famous people associated with Cleveland are buried in the cemetery, including John Rockefeller, James A. Garfield, Eliot Ness, Harvey Pekar, and Alan Freed. There are also tens of thousands of names carved on tombstones in the cemetery that have been long forgotten by history. It is a beautiful place, a garden, a reprieve from the busy city. I wake with the sun and make a cup of coffee. I put on my shoes, smoke a cigarette on the porch of my apartment on Coltman and walk five minutes to the Euclid gate. Then, taking a deep breath, I enter the cemetery for a long stroll.

Death haunts my steps
Like the shadow of my body
The sun casts onto the road.
I can still feel the burn of
The cigarette on the back
Of my throat.
What is death?
The end of our stories.
The end of everything,
Or perhaps a new beginning
In an undiscovered country
Whose bounty we can only
I pass grave after grave,
Marble crosses,
Jewish stars,
A statue of a buck, a statue of a horse,
And nowhere do I find consolation from
I am surrounded by death
But also by life
Because Lake View is a garden cemetery.
In the summertime
Everything blossoms and blooms.
I know that in the autumn,
Nothing will last,
Just like our lives
These green leaves
Will flame out
And turn to brown ash
Littering the graves.

Once I told my ex
That I loved her here,
Sitting on the edge,
Near the dam.
I told her that I loved her
And she told me the same.
We’ve separated since then.
The love never died in my heart.
Perhaps that’s the thing about love:
It is the one thing
That even death cannot touch,
Which death,
Or separation
Only serves to deepen
In a way
That wrenches the heart
From the cage
Of bone
Surrounding it.

I sobbed here,
In the cemetery,
By the lake,
When I received a phone call
In which my dad
Told me
That my stepmother had breast cancer.
It was a dark day, I remember.
The whole sky was smothered
By oppressive clouds.
My stepmother has since recovered.
Her cancer was only stage 1.
I cannot think of her now,
Without thinking of
The shadow of death
That hangs over us all.

I lived a full life.
I’ve burned like the sun.
I’ve screamed at the stars.
I’ve been drunk and high beneath the
Velvet vault of heaven.
I’ve fallen in love
And had my heart broken
Time and time again.
I’ve kissed in cars
And downtown bars.
I’ve felt the summer’s scalding heat
And the winter’s bitter chill.
There’s nothing left to do,
Yet time future and time past,
Are perhaps contained in time present,
So as I walk
I know that my whole story is contained
In each and every step.
Down the cemetery’s nature trail
There is a crossroads.
To the left the path is straight and sun-strewn
To the right the path turns into the shaded wood.
And I picked my path,
Just as I picked my life,
If I made the choice at all.

I leave the silence of the cemetery
At the Mayfield gate
And walk down the steep hill
Into the city,
Little Italy,
Where people even in a pandemic
Are gathered
Eating fresh pizza and cannolis,
While Bob Seeger
Plays from “La Dolce Vita” bar.
Here is the absence of death.
Here is life in the city: vibrant, present, full.
Memories of death
(The shadow)
Flee like night at daybreak.
I sit at Presti’s,
Order a slice of pie
And try to forget all that I know
In order that I might live

Karim Ragab

Karim Ragab has lived in Little Italy since November of 2019 and has been at work on his craft for many years, now. He has publications in Vine Leaves, Street Speech, the East Side Daily News (a contributor), and the JJ Outre Review. He has three novels written and is attempting to query agents in order to publish the first of them. He is currently at work on a fourth novel, entitled Lovers.


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