Remembrances of loved ones during Día de los Muertos
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.
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 and dance,
and work, and believe, and give all that you have.
One gets out of 11th floor Long only two ways.
He wants the one
(In remembrance of my brother, Mark.)
For J - Barbara Armstrong
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.
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.
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
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
(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,
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
Or is he muerto? A word
like a cave
full of bats and spirits.
in the shadows.
Pear, your perfect ripeness
lasts only one day.
Today no, tomorrow, yes.
Day after, no more.
AMONG MANY DAYS OF THE DEADJune 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 –
like trees entwined.
These two telegraphed
the story on national news
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,
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.
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.
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.