Assembling the Family

As I walked whistling through the cemetery
That haunted night of fitful moon and cloud,
I found my forebears’ ghosts were making merry
At my expense, an undulating crowd
From whose pale mist of faces some came through
And looked me over with sepulchral laugh.
I shook with anger, and my voice shook, too —
“Go back to sleep beneath your epitaph.”
“Ha, ha! There speaks my temper, as I live,”
A young man said, taking a pinch of snuff.
Around him all the shades grew talkative
As though they’d lain in silence long enough.
A gaffer in a cloak of homespun eyed me
And said, “His constitution’s of the best.
I gave him that; I had the Word to guide me
And kept my health — ‘twas all that I possessed.”
“Oh, bosh, old Puritan,” a fumy ghost
In flowered waistcoat sneered, “he has my gout.”
“His eyes,” a young girl murmured, “are almost
As blue as mine before death put them out.”
“He has my sense of humor, and he’ll need it
In these drab days,” a matron chuckled. “Ah,”
A pale youth sighed, “my genius, had he freed it
From meter, would have swept America.”
“He has my hands.” “The ears are the best feature,
And they are mine.” “I gave him all that hair.”
“He has my wit, but not my depth, poor creature.”
“Ah, the kind heart! I’d know it anywhere.”
They cried, “He’s plagiaristically familiar!
Though now we’re dust and lie where time has flung us,
There’s not one particle of this live Hillyer
We dead ones can’t account for here among us.”
I would not be dismayed. “Oh, yes, there is!”
They rustled nearer, hovering to know.
“What is it?” What?” they twittered, “what is this
You have, that not one soul of us can show?”
“I’ll tell you when I join you.” So I spoke,
And, by sheer curiosity consumed,
They flickered softly into bonfire smoke
And the wan moonlight where they lay entombed.