A conversation with Thomas Hardy in St James Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba 

The earth moves when I turn 
on my machines, says Danny – 
the caretaker. He has a vole problem. 
Me, TH, I’m always on the lookout 
for new wildlife. Still kicking myself 
I missed the skunk roadkill. Voles, Thomas, 
are bigger than mice, but slower. 
And blind. Folks like to think they’re alone 
down there. But I can tell you right now . . . 
. . . they’ve all got plenty of company. 
Not that I can blame the voles for all 
these gravestones being at odd angles. No? 
And the vandals aren’t just kids. Take a 
decent-sized adult to push over some 
of these monuments. Come inside. 
You an Anglican, Thomas? . . . Um . . . That’s 
okay, they only build these churches 
for the bad buggers. You and me, we’re 
okay as is. Actually, I just like hanging around 
graveyards. I know what you mean 
Thomas. And if you were wondering 
where all the buffalo went. Well, those 
are buffalo skin kneelers . . . OKay. Wow. 
They’re bison really though, eh? I mean . . . 
technically, aren’t they? Well, Thomas, 
if you want to get pedantic about it. 
So you poison or trap them? Who? What? 
The voles. Oh, no. No, poisons or pesticides 
here. Can’t have someone pick up a handful 
of dirt to throw at a funeral and then 
get sick themselves. No, I just dig 
out the dens, lay limestone and re-set 
the stones on the level. See, we’re an old 
cemetery but we still inter. And last Saturday 
there was even a wedding. Fools rang 
the bell so hard the grille fell off the tower. 
Oh dear. And that’s another thing I’ll have to fix. 
I got to tell you, Thomas, the last caretaker, 
he wasn’t up to much. Couldn’t even take care 
of your average badger. Me, I’ve got 
to deal with two of the biggest garter 
snakes that you’re ever likely to find, 
over in Rows 3 and 10 there. They’re here for 
the voles, too. You know I fell in a karst once, 
when I was a boy. Being a stranger to 
these parts, Thomas, you won’t know 
exactly what that is. Well, actually– A karst 
is a natural pit formation that snakes come 
to breed in. And I can tell you, Thomas, I crawled 
up and out of there pretty smartly. Those ones 
may not bite. But once you’ve fallen 
into a pit of breeding snakes, I don’t care 
how hard you are, after that you’re a different 
person. I bet . . . I bet. Maybe, Thomas, maybe 
that was the making of me? See, I was sent 
over from St John’s on a mission. I was there 
fourteen years, and they sent me over 
here to sort things out. ‘Sort things out,’ 
they said to me. But I still go back to the cathedral 
to take care of the tricky stuff. Like last 
Saturday I was there around midnight, 
putting some 7 on a hive. Now that 7 is a poison, 
but don’t you tell anyone, or else. No . . . No, 
I won’t. Good. See, you got to go in the middle 
of the night. When the wasps are just crawling 
around. Not flying. Not flying, just crawling . . . 
You know, I had one guy in to help me here, but 
he was on the glue. Don’t do the glue, 
Thomas. I’ve kept well away from it so far. 
And I’ve got a boy who comes in once in 
a while. But you’ve got to be careful, Thomas. 
You can bugger a young boy up. Their muscles, 
their frames, they’re still forming. You can’t 
have them digging or lifting too much too soon. 
Well, thanks for the tour. You’re welcome. 
Come back in three years. I’ll have everything 
straightened out by then. But hold on, before 
you run away, tell me now, is your name 
really Thomas Hardy? . . . No. No, that was just me 
being clever. I’m sorry. That’s okay, Thomas. 
I of all people know that all sorts, all sorts of 
folks gravitate to graveyards for all sorts 
of reasons. So now I’ve got something else 
for you, Thomas. Dug it up just yesterday. 
. . . It’s the handle off a drawer? . . . Off a chest 
of drawers? No, Thomas. No, it’s not. It’s the handle 
off a child’s coffin. Oh, Oh, yes. Of course . . . 
Wow. But that’s all I found. Must have come up 
from down below. Another generation. And ended 
up in the fill. See, it has the two hands there . . . Yes. 
. . . The two hands shaking. Yes. See that. Yes. God & man, 
two hands shaking. 


David Geary is a theatre, TV and fiction writer who lives in exile on Vancouver Island, Canada. He writes approximately 2.5 poems a year just to keep his hand in. The poem that appears here was written under the influence of an A & W root beer float, somewhere between the Canad Inns Stadium – home to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers CFL team, and the Aurora Borealis.