At the Jewish Cemetery, Prague - Sandra Anfang Gravestones zigzag over a low rise under brilliant buckeye trees whose sap feeds rows of crooked teeth that cannot voice the terrible scream cannot wake from the terrible dream. Under a muffler of cotton sky stones lean this way and that pitched forward, lying in each other’s laps like children burrowing into grandma’s flesh they huddle with the candy colored buildings of Prague. Echoes of life in the shtetl memories of simpler days landsmen bundling sheaves privacy traded for the comfort of neighbors who needed each other to survive. The stones jut out from long-limbed grass like ugly truths, like humble fungi whose growth will not be stemmed testament to man's inhumanity to man testament to empathy, love, and community. As I walk among the graves I weep for the cruelty visited upon my tribe for the solipsism of manicured mausoleums and for the possibility that this or something worse could happen here. I grieve for trees and plants as well near death in drought’s cruel laboratory for the loss of family and continuity and for the simple joy of comrades’ arms we fling about each other’s necks.
11th Floor Long / San Francisco, CA - Connie Williams 6AM. The view from flat on his back is tree tops glimmering with the whisper of light tossing between the leaves like sparks released on the fourth of July. The sun, bold and sassy as if it will shine forever even as the grasping arm of fog approaches the edge of the grove. 11th floor Long hovers over the roofs and their fans and heaters and rooftop storage bins, and 11 floors down are the long stairs winding through the trees to the parking lot where doctors and nurses come and go in 10 hour shifts. He watches from the window but his eyes focus only on a brown spider sauntering across the glass. He breathes in. Then out. He is thankful twice. At 10 AM family pours through the door with quiet smiles and hats in hand and stop at the sink to wash away germs: the enemy of time. Holy cow Twain was right. Coldest winter; one summer day here. Look at those trees bellowing in the wind and the fog rolling in. Its freezing freaking cold out there….and it’s July. They look out the window and point to the bridge, the tower, the forest outside the window, and their homes on the edge of the continent further north where the fog stops just short of their hot, hot summer. 11th floor, hands on the window, noses smushed to squint down to the street. Amazing. Such a view. Now lovers and friends slip in and out stopping only to grab some soap then give air kisses all around and brief conversation before there is only time for sleep. Lots of time. For lots of sleep. Later, dragging the stand dripping life into each heartbeat around the nurses’ station he reads the poetry on the walls, the drawings, and thank yous for your kindness and service and care to our loved one - reminders in poems that we are only here for a moment so get out get out get out and dance, and play, and work, and believe, and give all that you have. One gets out of 11th floor Long only two ways. He wants the one that allows dancing. (In remembrance of my brother, Mark.)
For J - Barbara Armstrong i You never waved good-bye. Sitting upright in the passenger seat of your daughter’s white sedan, you held your pillow close to your chest, looked neither toward our house nor away but fixed your focus straight ahead into your own uncertain destiny. The gate clanged shut. I wonder. . . did you see me wave good-bye. ii On the deck downstairs your tarnished watering can sits dry as last week’s yesterdays. Heavy in their oaken barrels your precious Chinese Jades extend their sturdy arms in all directions. Totems of abundance and good fortune still flank the door of your hide-away now left strangely open. Beyond the rail, I see what you must have always noticed as the Summers waned-- that gnarled apple tree enacting the final episode of its season. So full of promise in July, the Gravensteins now spill their knobs of gold and bronze across the stubbled hill. The scent of fermentation draws the doe who lifts her head with calm, reflective eyes to take me in. The feral fox that used to sidle past your bedroom door has taken to sleeping in your outdoor chair; its tell-tale paw prints claim the cushions now you are gone. iii The whir of flight shivers the redwood branches. . . a feather drifts through loosened air. Down from the breast of a mourning dove descends in languid motion, waving side to side like the gloved hand of a queen. It rides a shallow tide and comes to rest upon my palm like an afterthought or a talisman. Our Halcyon Days (for Tre Ford 1927-2021) out on the job site, we often found you hauling two-by-fours to the radial saw, calculating to the blade’s width the precision of each cut timbers and sheets of plywood obedient to your command piper of the foothills, you led an unlikely crew of women in overalls apron pockets equipped with tapes and #8s, flat carpenter pencils, bullet levels, sixteen ounce hammers slung from loops you’d roust us out before daybreak to obviate the torch of mid-day sun we were the ones who held the other end who helped to raise the walls and thread the wires we’d scramble ladders to the roof cut loose and spread the bundled shingles you taught us how to sweat the copper joints, connect the maze of plastic pipes till rainbows gushed from every tap and spigot “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” you’d say as pink blankets showered fiberglass on our hoods in the sweltering crawl space as concrete hardened on the lips of our rubber boots at sundown “These are our halcyon days,” you would insist and now my oldest-dearest friend I’m sending all my faith and love to tell you it’s okay to move from chairman of the board to woman of the lift, from architect of dreams to resident upstairs from driving force to one who must be driven “Those were our halcyon days,” you always liked to reminisce and yes they were
Angel M.I.A. - Les Bernstein “Every blade of grass has its angel that hovers over it and whispers grow, grow" - A Rabbinic commentary in a dark corridor the last speaker of a familial language has died leaving only tangles and absence attendant ideas and torrents of anecdotes cannot translate seamlessly what lies beneath gleaming surfaces you once said believe those who seek truth doubt those who are certain of it cover them like a parrot you wish to silence you said looking outside is a dream a convenient fiction good luck with that tell me who is going to teach radiant oneness be a beacon incandescently alive who will whisper grow (In memory of Irving Bernstein)
PERAS DE MUERTOS - Phyllis Meshulam Adornamos la ventana con papel picado color de rosa, turquesa, azul, y con las hojas secas y encendidas iluminadas por un té de sol. La mesa se llena con fotos y flores, cempasúchil, sonrisas. Las enaguas de una rosa captadas a media pirueta, y así se va a quedar por un día o dos, tiempo bastante para mi altar de muertos. Otra rosa: color del sol a través de las orejas de la liebre. Algunos pétalos cubren de modestia la bosteza de la flor. El crisantemo, herrumbroso, juega papel del payaso, como papá en su foto; los dos inclinan la cabeza. Y canasta de peras perfumadas que luego vamos a comer. Tienen forma de mis senos, piel color de las hojas otoñales, son llenas de un vino dulce y lechoso, entre sólido y liquido. Pera, primer alimento de mi hija, ultimo alimento de mi papá. “Haz eso para recordarte de mí. Eso es mi cuerpo.” Es cuerpo del abuelo, es cuerpo de la nena, son mis senos, mi cuerpo, parte de la cadena, vida, muerte, trenza de ajo, de la cosecha. ¿Papá ya está dead? Esta palabra que es clavo en el ataúd. ¿O está muerto? Palabra llena de murciélagos y espíritus como una cueva. El otoño solloza. Color naranja brilla de las sombras. Pera, cuya madurez perfecta dura nada más un día. Hoy todavía no, mañana sí, Pasado mañana, ya perdiéndose.
PEARS OF THE DEAD We decorate the window with papel picado pink, turquoise, Mediterranean blue, With dry and fiery leaves about ready to combust Brightened by the sun’s tea. The altar fills with snapshots and flowers, marigolds and smiles. The petticoats of the rose in mid-pirouette. That’s how it will stay for a day or two, long enough for a Muertos altar. Color of sun through a white rabbit’s ears. A few petals shyly cover the flower’s yawn. The rusty chrysanthemum plays the clown, like dad in his snapshot, Their heads at the same slant. And this bowl of perfumed fruit with the shape of my breasts, Skin the color of fall leaves full of a juicy milk, between solid and liquid. Pear, my daughter’s first food, my father’s last. “Do this in remembrance of me. This is my body.” They’re the body of the grandfather, the body of the child, the breasts of the mother, part of the chain garlic braid of harvest. My father is dead. This word like a coffin’s nail. Or is he muerto? A word like a cave full of bats and spirits. Autumn sobs. Orange shines in the shadows. Pear, your perfect ripeness lasts only one day. Today no, tomorrow, yes. Day after, no more. AMONG MANY DAYS OF THE DEAD June 12, 2016, when a gunman shot and killed 49 individuals at Pulse, a gay and Latinx night club, in Orlando, Florida, Two slender men – with tan bodies, tank tops, tattoos – console, embrace like trees entwined. These two telegraphed the story on national news and endure in the grove of my mind above a scattershot of the fallen. Can I speak the names behind the names? Angel, Beloved, Bread-and-Water, Carrier, Daughter, Defender, DJ, Earth Worker, Farm. Angel wings shielded mourners from protesters as they made their way to funerals. Many opened veins and gave until banks overspilled. Rainbow flags flowered. Matches scratched and leapt into flame, into candle. Flaming Sword, Fortress, Guard, Holder, Healer, King, Listener, New House, Painter, Ruler, Young Mother. Thinking of my children, my students, and the forty-nine, I have made pilgrimage to an ocean full of blue and salt. Of course there were at least two Frank Ones, two Humble Ones, Warriors one, two, three and four, the Gracious, Generous, Gracious, Generous ones, the Strong, Blessed, Just, Kind, God-like ones, Priceless, Priceless. What have I done with these Gifts of God? Forest, Wolf, Bear, River, Forest, Wolf, Bear, River, Deer, Snow, Deer, Snow, dear Sea-and-Sun, dear Sea-and-Sun, dear Clearing, Rock, Rock, Rock – on this Rock I will build more Muertos altars. These still overflow.
DAY OF THE DEAD POEM FOR STEVE – Sheila Signer Come back, so I can see your smile. So we can smile with each other. I will never forget your smile. When I saw you that first time, running on the track near Winfield Street you made me fly. I smiled at you. You turned around and started running in my direction, “Would you mind running with me?” I said, “No, not at all.” You told me about a couple you knew who’d been together a long time. Come back. I still have the treasured truck your uncle made for you. He was good at fixing things and made toys for you when you were little. You were clever, like your uncle, at fixing things. I’d break something. You’d fix it. One thing you said about me when we met Was that I am fair. You were fair, too. — always gracious about my years of journeying around the world with my travel friend, another man. You trusted me completely. You taught me to trust. Come back. We’ll have some coffee. We’ll sit in our kitchen and listen to jazz. I remember you opening the door to someone —clearly a drug addict— asking for money. You gave him some. No questions. You had a kind heart. Come back. The rose garden you grew is still here, beyond the kitchen window, a lovely place to sit and sing. We loved it. We’ll have some chocolate ice cream. I will sing you the love song I wrote for you. We’ll fly like we used to run.