Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery: Doin’ It Right


Cat was giving us a tour of Brooklyn‘s Greenwood Cemetery. I biked up to the neo-Gothic entrance of the cemetery to where Cat and Laura stood waiting. Julie rolled up, looking aggressive and badass and made Laura’s acquaintance, asked how she liked South Slope, since they were both neighbors. Oh yeah, it’s great, except for the Yuppies. But you are Yuppies, I said, and tried to play it off, telling myself it was too early to have made such an intrusive and condescending comment.
We walked in, I used the bathroom and Matthew started whistling and singing a fifties song. I completed the lyrics and washed my hands, glad that my tax dollars were being put to the use of keeping our national historical landmarks’ bathroom clean.
The sun was bright and sparkling when it caught on the varicolored tree leaves. Maples, lindens, oaks, beeches, all resplendent greens and oranges and a red thrown in, yellows and browns, dusting the sunken marble gravestones. Revolutionary War history, the highest point in Brooklyn, a statue waving to Lady Liberty, I tried to take a photo of the Freedom Tower but it was too distant and once more I was dissatisfied with photography for being unable to represent reality in the light I wanted it to.
On we walked. I led us toward Basquiat’s grave, past obelisks, mausoleums with Doric columns, pyramids, ridges, paths, over hills, onward. I walked with Cat. She was jealous of Matthew taking Julie away from her. I yelled at them to come on, to follow me, and I think I disturbed a couple at a site, standing outside a car, and an old man at another site.
We saw a sixty foot high obelisk with the name Cummings on it. What’s the point, Julie asked. It’s a sign of fertility, I said. You know that was the guy in charge, Cat said. Or that was the guy who was an asshole, said Julie.
When we got to the plot of land where Basquiat was supposed to be buried we couldn’t find it. There was a bench where Cat and Julie sat down. Genna was coming with Laura. I tried to find it, expecting there to be an obelisk or a big headstone, some kind of marker to show that one of the late 20th century’s most famous artists was buried here. I walked along the row of graves, didn’t see it.
I finally had to look it up on the internet and within fifteen seconds knew exactly where it was. In the row of short headstones. A couple of artworks lay on the ground. Pennies, messages scrawled on cardboard. Rather sad. Here was this artist who lay interred next to someone’s gramma.
We turned to walk back. Already my calves were starting to get sore. We walked over ridges, trudging through the dead leaves that lay scattered around graves in clusters and piles. We were going to see Samuel Morse’s grave but Genna was complaining that she was hungry. Oh, poor baby Genna hungree? You should’ve eaten when you had the chance, I snapped, and walked along with Cat and Julie.
I held the map trying to determine where we were in order to see Horace Greeley’s grave. Go west, young man, but no one knew who he was. We walked through a more modern part of the cemetery where paths had been cut into the hill and white stone walls erected to support the landscape architecture.
We came to Boss Tweed’s grave, fenced in with copper next to the rest of his family. Matthew and Laura jumped in and I took a photo of them with Matthew’s phone. I laughed at how his apps were organized, three on the first page, the next page with most of them, and a few more on the third page. I showed Julie and Genna and we laughed. Matthew defended himself by saying that he wanted to see his desktop. I paused. That made sense.
I led them down Landscape Avenue, a sloping, serpentine road shaded with oaks. We talked about how uncreepy Greenwood is because of the high trees and its well-maintained atmosphere. Mr. Greeley had a copper bust on his tombstone, with a granite ring encircling the plot where his other family members had been buried, including the IV this very year. We sat in pairs, Genna next to me, clinging to my core.
We stood and walked over the hill, down the road to the water, which glittered in the mid-afternoon sun. Mausoleums built into the hill had tiny iron doors which Matthew said would fit Julie perfectly. Cat kept saying how she wanted to live in one of them. But you wouldn’t have wi-fi, Julie said. Cat and Laura were talking about someone with diabetes and I had to restrain myself from jumping into their conversation. It sounded very interesting, Cat’s trying to understand the issues he had gone through, this person who I assumed was Dom.
Around the lake we came to the gate where we could see 5th avenue and 31st street. Julie and I walked together up the road as Cemetery Patrol drove past us nodding. Up, along a ridge that led to the Japanese Garden, past a real Brooklyn family, dark-haired, with a little pudgy girl singing follow the leader and a grandma telling her grandson to stay away from the edge unless he wanted to roll straight down to the bottom.
In the Japanese Garden, I stood on a bridge and looked at the coy. Some were vibrantly colored orange-and-black speckled, swimming through the clear, dark water, while the biggest one was pure white. Julie and Cat came over to me and I told them that these were the same as goldfish, that it was the size of the tank that restricted them from growing so large.
I walked ahead, urging Genna and Laura on and out of the Garden. Sun fell across the lawn in that lazy way it will in early November during the middle of the afternoon: dull and sad. I lay down and conscious of how lying in grass can make you itch I held my head so my neck didn’t touch it and until Genna came over to me when I stretched into Downward Dog and stood, leading them past a couple of older Russian ladies enjoying sandwiches on a bench, and to the Neo-Gothic gate, whose copper gutters Matthew pointed out. Julie took her skateboard back from the guy at the gate, who thanked her for letting him ollie and b-ollie. I was impressed with how knowledgeable he was about skating. We walked out to where our bikes were parked and although Laura was unwilling to ride on the back of Genna’s bike, it was fine and we left her happy as we rolled on to our next destination, deeper into the heart of my bosom-mother, Brooklyn.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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