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Marthaville Surprise

November 18, 2009

I lived in Natchitoches for 22 years before moving to the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area for nine years.  I have spent more than a year in graduate school back at NSU.  During all that time, I had never been out to Marthaville, another town in Natchitoches Parish.  I went to go check out Rebel State Historic Site and Louisiana Country Music Museum, but on the way I passed the Marthaville Cemetery.  I stopped there on my way back to Natchitoches, and was very pleasantly surprised.  The graves are mostly well cared for, even the ones that appear to be considerably old (1910s and 1920 for some).  However, the biggest surprise was  a more recent gravestone, the headstone for Mark Alan Clemons.

Mr. Clemons passed away in 1998 at the relatively young age of 32.  The front of his headstone is a bit unusual, as you can see:

Headstone for Mark Alan Clemons, 1965-1998; Marthaville Cemetery, LA

The first thing I did was laugh upon reading the inscription “Bowled a 300 on Sept. 18, 1997.”  That’s not the sort of thing you see very often on someone’s grave.  “He loved people and laughter” is more like what people have said about them.  The real kicker is the etched image of a man in the act of bowling in cowboy boots and cowboy hat, a full bowling lane, and pins at the end.  I thought that Mr. Clemons was a real character, and gave little thought to his death.

Walking down the aisle, I came back around to the back of the headstone and was completely floored when I saw this:

The back of the Mark Alan Clemons headstone. Poem written about his experiences after being diagnosed with AIDS.

The text reads:

GOD, PLEASE HELP ME

 

T’was thirty days after a positive test.
My mind was a wreck, my life was a mess.
The people I met, the things that I learned,
The fear set in, my soul had been burned.
It was a curse, sent from hell.
My body shaked, the teardrops fell.
Denial set in, strong and true.
It couldn’t be me this happened to.
What could I say?  Who could I tell?
That I was a victim of the curse from hell.
My family, my friends, what would they do?
Should I lie, should I tell them the truth?
I pray for forgiveness, for the mistake I made,
God, please help me, I’m dying with AIDS.
T’was sixty days after a positive test.
I’m O.K.  I’m one of the best.
There came a voice from deep within,
I am alive I didn’t sin.
No need for shame, it’s not a curse.
Many other things could be much worse.
Take care of myself and what could I lose?
A bad reputation, a fifth of booze.
I’ve been given a chance to learn new things,
To enjoy my life, and all that it brings.
My family, my friends, they are still there.
Little did I know how much they care.
I’m no longer scared of what may come.
Death is a fact.  Why should I run?
I hold my head high, I enjoy my days.
God please help me, I living with AIDS!

Mark Alan Clemons

The baseball poets like to say that if you watch enough baseball, you will eventually see something that you have never seen before.  I guess the same is true for cemeteries.

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5 Comments
  1. Brooke permalink

    Wow – First I didn’t know you had a blog. Second, I am most impressed with this. Keep them coming please.

  2. Stephanie permalink

    Nice find. So what is it exactly that you are studying?

    • Heritage Resources in the graduate program at NSU. My project thesis is about cemetery preservation, so I’m visiting area cemeteries to see what they’ve got.

  3. Cat Lobre permalink

    I like it. He was a good poet.

  4. Catie permalink

    I hope Mr. Clemons bowls a few more 300s with good ole J.C.

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