Rota Fortunae

“Time and Tide wait for no man.”

Geoffrey Chaucer

The day repeats the dream.

Behind our masks we carry muffled voices

breathy and uneven

mostly silent,

The only noise our shoes on asphalt shuffling small gravel pieces,

announcing our approach to the guard of palatine crows foraging yesterday’s memorial,

rooting debris along the floral wrack line.


The slant of sun on granite breaks bolder under still-bare trees.

The morning sun brightens old inscriptions–

Names and dates hold audience.


We nod to the General’s family,

remember a favorite teacher

and sigh mournfully in passing a childhood friend.

We wave hello and tell my father we’ll be back with fresh flowers.


The path continues round then round again

as the Wheel turns once more with a barely discernible click.


There is peace in silent conversation.

I reach for words, but pull back,

instead the rhythm of the Wheel and Fortune’s lottery

quickens my pace as we pass a canopy and chairs with tribute sprays reminding:



The circle turns once more and paths diverge.

With one last look we retreat

as time and fortune click softly in the distance.


And the dream repeats the day.


D. Fetterly/Winter 2021

46 thoughts on “Rota Fortunae

    • Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment, Jo. The setting responsible for inspiring this poem has much significance for me, and I visit most days. There is a sense of collective grief permeating our world right now, and I often enter into the sadness, but I am not despairing. All is well. Blessings to you for a peace-filled weekend, my friend.

  1. Funerals are never fun.
    But cemeteries can be quiet, peaceful and contemplative.
    Enjoyed walking the grounds with you.

    Stay well.
    Your new avatar looks “mysterious.” 😀

    • I’m glad you took the walk with me, Nancy. Yes, I love to walk in this particular cemetery, almost every day. Oh good! I have an air of mystery. I almost never hear that about me. LOL!

      • Same here. I tend to be an “open book” with no aura of mystery . . . although wearing a mask out in public gives me a chance to be a bit “incognito.” 😆

  2. I have always enjoyed cemeteries. For many reasons. The peace. The thousands of stories I see in the names and inscriptions and the wonder of their lives. I took this walk with you Debra, and felt it. Lovely piece.

    • Yes! I am there with you in intuiting the stories, Colleen. I have walked in this cemetery for more than 50 years, having first experienced it as a child because it was at the end of the street we lived on. Through all these years I have felt very comforted and mindful of the responsibility to appreciate life. Thank you so much for taking the walk with me. I enjoyed your company!

  3. Even while having observed the scene you described several thousand times in my 40 year career, I couldn’t begin to describe it more poignantly. May his memory be eternal

    • Thank you, Ray. I walk in this space almost daily, and the experience is mostly peaceful. I have many loved ones in this cemetery. Old friends and family members. I can take the time to reflect and indeed hold their memories very close. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and to respond so gently.

  4. I don’t know this cemetery, but you took me there. I agree with so many of the comments about the peacefulness one can experience. The only cemetery I’ve been in with any regularity is Arlington National Cemetery. It’s a full-body experience for me. Another’s day is done. I didn’t catch that the first time, Debra. Lovely.

    • I have always found any of the National Cemeteries to be very moving, and your “full body” experience in Arlington would be something I can imagine holds tremendous weight. It’s the ultimate, I think. I’m sure we went to the San Gabriel Cemetery together as it’s so close to my house. I probably shared with you where the Patton family is buried. That, and it’s just pretty! Thank you for taking the time to respond, dear friend. I appreciate you!

  5. Beautiful. My mother loved to walk cemeteries. Many of the old ones have pictures embedded on the tombstone and they tell a story. Mothers, fathers, children, many struck down way too early. I inherited her love for such peaceful places full of history. Sometimes I visit my parents at our church cemetery. It’s a place I can talk to them without distraction.

    • I really understand what you’re sharing about sometimes visiting your parents. There’s a peace that can come with just being quiet and contemplative in such a personal setting. It sounds like the church cemetery isn’t too far from where you are, and that the opportunity is available to you when you want it. I, like your mother perhaps, feel like I intuit some stories when I read the different inscriptions, and that feels respectful to me. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Kate. I appreciate it.

    • I really appreciate your comment and it pleases me that the words and images connected with you in resonance, Jim. You referred to “burial ground,” which stood out to me. I rarely, if ever, hear anyone state the obvious, unless the reference is tied to “ancient” or “ancestral/indigenous,” anything distanced from our own impending death. We say “resting place” and other gentle terms, with greater ease. This stands out to me, and feels relevant to some of what I have been musing upon as I walk in this local cemetery. You’ve got me thinking now, which is a lovely way to extend my inner dialogue. Thank you for that.

    • I responded to your comment a couple of days ago, Cathy, but see that something happened and it didn’t post! But I do want to assure you that I appreciate that you took the time to read my contribution and that you found it moving. The cemetery that inspired my poem has been a favorite place for me to walk since I was a child. At times it really is a place of sadness, and other times, a quiet place of contemplation. There are many layers of emotion, that’s certain. Thank you, my friend. And yes, I am well.

      • Glad to hear that Debra. I do not find cemetaries sad myself. In Germany graves are tended very lovingly and there is nothing strange or morbid about them. More joyful I would say. I took over the care of my partner’s family grave some years ago. Unfortunately it is now a long drive away and Covid restrictions keep me from visiting often enough. The cemetary is a beautiful park on the edge of the city and people often just walk through or sit on a bench and listen to the birds. 😃

    • I really did enjoy my birthday, Andra, although I may have winced at how quickly it sneaked up on me! 🙂 Best of birthday wishes to you in Iceland, as well. Very memorable!

    • I am so appreciative of your comment, Philip. You tapped into the emotion of what inspired my writing this particular piece. I’m so aware of the global grief that has changed all of us, I think. I have grieved in my own way for those who have said goodbye to loved ones, with an iPad/FaceTime being all that is available to them when distanced and unable to be by a hospital bedside. I haven’t been touched directly by the ravages of this pandemic, but we are all experiencing it in some profound way, and I think it’s definitely reminded me of how fragile we all are. Thank you for your sensitivity.

  6. A beautiful poem Debra 🙂 Wandering around a cemetery can be a moving experience even when you don’t have family resting there. In many older UK cemeteries there are many opportunities to do photography as you wander amid the tombs and some are almost ‘tourist attractions’ or parks. The fact that most are called memorial gardens does much to encourage this. There is a book – ’51 London Cemeteries to see before you die’ in which I had a photo published. I see there are a number of similar books out there!

    • Of course cemeteries in Southern California don’t have the age and history found in the UK and not even as old as the American east coast, but this particular local cemetery is as old as they come in our area, and many notables rest there. It’s very peaceful and beautiful. How exciting to have one of your photos published in such an interesting book, Martin!

I always enjoy hearing from you!

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