A new poem by Cory Lavender

Warning: The ossuary tour could make a strong impression
on children and people of a nervous disposition

I spiral five storeys into the earth to an inscription that translates “Stop!
Here lies the Empire of Death!” Entering the dank tunnel I descend
stone steps into the hand-dug cellar under my mother’s parents’ house.
Nervous as a kid to go down there, I’d test myself on how long
I could stand beneath a bare bulb among deep-seated shadows.
Glancing up at the quarry sky, at torch-scorched arrows,
I hear family clomp across kitchen floorboards overhead
like horses’ hooves clickety-clopping nights for two years
down cobbled city streets carting skeletons disinterred
from overspilling cemeteries to be heaped in these catacombs.
Entering the abandoned mine, my wife beside me, I’m alone,
a tourist never before exposed to human bones,
a little boy in his long-gone grandparents’ cellar.
Among pell-mell or painstakingly stacked piles of skulls,
thigh and shankbones, the remains of six million Parisians
and engravings of morbid French poetry, I see shelved
the preserved flesh of Grammy Roy’s stores, cobwebbed
mason jars of pickled herring, solomon gundy. Beets still blood red.