R.A. Villanueva


        Paris, 1786

When the Cemetery of Saints Innocents
could no longer hold the coming bodies
or sustain its stacks of bones strewn

with soot and heirloom curios,
its obelisks engraved with psalms
or given names in hollow-relief,

the gravediggers raised fences
to surround the plots and their
compound dead. By decree

and plank and nail, the gathered masses
were turned away, told to wait for word
of better tombs. The mourners

with their hymnal flowers, their spangled
cadence, their butcher paper and chalks
barred from the grounds to make room

for shovels and barrows, the horse-carts
loaded full with all manner of skulls
and joints. Beyond the city walls,

watching his quarries deepened
and mapped, lined with generations
of teeth and arms, Lenoir confesses

to the catacomb ledgers: If
I did not move them, our dead
would overtake us all.