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Cemetery Marker by Kariouk Associates
Kariouk Associates. Ottawa Gatinuea Design Office. Houses, Cottages, and Interior Renovations

Cemetery Marker

Project Information
Project Information
Location:
A small and remote churchyard in rural Pennsylvania
Dates:
2009
Task:
To create a cemetery marker
Design Challenge & Solution
Publications
Credits
Publications
Spare Cemetery Marker Eloquently Pays Tribute To A Mother’s Life
Architizer, Spare Cemetery Marker Eloquently Pays Tribute To A Mother’s Life, April 2013
Design Challenge & Solution

Design Challenge:

Before dying, the woman for whom this marker was made left a note for her children to be read after her death. The woman knew she had limited time as she was chronically ill, but even before her health failed, her life was extremely tumultuous and difficult; the combination of all of these lead to what was ultimately her very short life. The note that she left to her children was less a will (she had all but nothing material to leave her children) than a series of abstract wishes for them. The sole request that she made on her own behalf was that somehow her gravesite should be made as a garden.

Design Solution:

Because the site for the marker is remote, literally maintaining a garden was not possible. Hence, a marker was designed that would capture the spirit of a garden: closeness to the ground, intimacy, and the possibility for continuity and growth. The marker is a series of five cast bronze plates that spread out over the small site and are set at slightly different heights above the earth. In this way the plates permit the churchyard’s grass to grow in between. As the plates age they oxidize and become green and in a sense join with the grass.

The top faces of the plates are inscribed with one phrase excerpted from the poem titled “Prologue” written by the renowned Caribbean-American poet, Audre Lorde; in various ways the difficult life and early death of Audre Lorde were parallel to the woman for whom this marker belongs. The phrase reads: “…The children remain like blades of grass over the earth and all the children are singing louder than mourning …And the grasses will still be singing.” The sides of the plates are inscribed with a passage from the message that the woman left in the note to her children: “…Trust and joy must be the foundation of our family life. Kindness, responsibility, self-fulfillment, courage, and modesty are keys to a happy and satisfying life. Affection, a sense of beauty and poetry are life’s essential inspiration and adornment...” Not by coincidence the “garden” that was requested to adorn the gravesite ultimately emerged from poetry. Each portion of the texts are oriented differently, hence, as in a garden, the viewer must circulate (around the plates) in order to begin to understand the garden’s message.

Complete Audre Lorde Text:

Prologue

Haunted by poems beginning with I
seek out those whom I love who are deaf
to whatever does not destroy
or curse the old ways that did not serve us
while history falters and our poets are dying
choked into silence by icy distinction
death rattles blind curses
and I hear even my own voice becoming
a pale strident whisper
At night sleep locks me into an echoless coffin
sometimes at noon I dream
there is nothing to fear
now standing up in the light of my father sun
without shadow
I speak without concern for the accusations
that I am too much or too little woman
that I am too Black or too white
or too much myself
and through my lips come the voices
of the ghosts of our ancestors
living and moving among us.

Hear my heart’s voice as it darkens
pulling old rhythms out of the earth
that will receive this piece of me
and a piece of each one of you
when our part in history quickens again
and is over:

Hear
the old ways are going away
and coming back pretending to change
masked as denunciation and lament
masked as a choice
between an eager mirror that blurs and distorts us
in easy definitions until our image
shatters along its fault
or the other half of that choice
speaking to our hidden fears with a promise
our eyes need not seek any truer shape –
a face at high noon particular and unadorned –
for we have learned to fear
the light from clear water might destroy us
with reflected emptiness or a face without tongue
with no love or with terrible penalties
for any difference
and even as I speak remembered pain is moving
shadows over my face, my own voice fades and
my brothers and sisters are leaving;

Yet when I was a child
whatever my mother thought would mean survival
made her try to beat me whiter every day
and even now the colour of her bleached ambition
still forks throughout my words
but I survived
and didn’t I survive confirmed
to teach my children where her errors lay
etched across their faces between the kisses
that she pinned me with asleep
and my mother beating me
as white as snow melts in the sunlight
loving me into her bloods black bone –
the home of all her secret hopes and fears
and my dead father whose great hands
weakened in my judgment
whose image broke inside of me
beneath the weight of failure
helps me to know who I am not
weak or mistaken
my father loved me alive
to grow and hate him
and now his grave voice joins hers
within my words rising and falling
are my sisters and brothers listening?

The children remain
like blades of grass over the earth and
all the children are singing
louder than mourning
all their different voices
sound like a raucous question
they do not fear empty mirrors
they have seen their faces defined in a hydrant’s puddle
before the rainbows of oil obscured them.
The time of lamentation and curses is passing.

My mother survives
through more than chance or token.
Although she will read what I write
with embarrassment or anger
and a small understanding
my children do not need to relive my past
in strength nor in confusion
nor care that their holy fires
may destroy
more than my failures.

Somewhere in the landscape past noon
I shall leave a dark print of the me that I am
and who I am not
etched in a shadow
of angry and remembered loving
and their ghosts will move
whispering through them
with me none the wiser
for they will have buried me
either in shame
or in peace.

And the grasses will still be
Singing.

(November 1971) As published in the collection Undersong by Audre Lorde

Credits
Design:
Paul duBellet Kariouk (Principal)
Chris Davis (Senior Design Associate)
Susan Gardiner (Design Associate)

Bronze Casting:
Alloy Foundry (Karl Feige)

Photography:
Photolux Studios (Christian Lalonde)