“A spreading oak looms high above the graves
And rustling, stirs. . .”
Alexander Pushkin, 1826 Trans., James Falen
The Day After the Day of the Dead
(November 3, 2013)
By Mark Sconce
A taxi drops off a passenger at the Ajijic cemetery—El Panteón
Diego couldn’t join them yesterday;
The plane he’d booked to bring him here
Had suffered a prolonged delay,
A ghost within the landing gear.
Diego’s family missed their eldest son,
And wondered why it was he hadn’t come.
It’s early morning now in Ajijic,
A drizzling rain has turned it cold and bleak.
The Old Gray Lady blows her chilly kiss
To every stone in this necropolis.
Then comes the trumpet of a burro’s bray,
The shudders of a horse’s neigh.
A dog slinks by—a glance of timid fear—
Some ravens jockey for the crumbs
Amid the litter of another year,
Among the petals of the floral wreaths,
Among the mass of golden marigolds.
Balloons and banners, Catholic manners;
Votive candles for atonement,
Katrinas mocking Death’s enthronement.
Hand-cut from colored tissue—flags
Festoon the air in joyous swags;
And sugar skulls with haunting faces,
Sleek skeletons on hallowed places.
Diego passes gravely through the arch,
A dampness on his jet-lagged face;
A heavy burden weighs upon his heart.
As he steps down to enter holy space,
He feels a trembling touch across his face,
A spider’s web in dawn’s dim light
Has given him a moment’s fright.
He hurries down the stony path
To reach his family’s graves at last,
To see once more their final site,
Still hazy now in morning’s light.
At first he contemplates a single tomb,
The one where Anna Rosa sleeps, his bride,
And with her there–the boy within her womb.
And he recalls the midwife’s cries
That bitter, dread-filled night last year,
That night when all the family agonized,
When all were gripped with sudden fear.
His five-year old, Elizabeth,
Collapsed in grief–and lost her bloom;
Part orphan with her mother’s death,
She felt the early touch of doom.
Her papa’s madre took her in,
Since he went north for work again…
A sudden splash of tears on cobblestone.
Diego felt so utterly alone.
A morning shaft of light illuminates
A photo of her young and smiling face,
Her glossy black and plaited hair
That prompted even girls to stare.
That wondrous smile to tantalize,
Those Aztec cheekbones, Spanish eyes!
Fate gave, then took away the sweetest kisses,
And kisses for a son unborn.
No more to know those family blisses,
But time enough and more to mourn.
From Spanish eyes he tore away his gaze
And saw an image in the morning rays:
Madonna and her infant child! . . .
Oh God, he cried, then turned and fled
And stumbled down the stony way.
He finally slowed his pace and wept—
Past row on row of brightening tombs
Inscribed to those who slept . . . and slept.
The clouds had scattered here and there
Among the tombs in disrepair.
The sun now lit Diego’s way;
He staggered on in disbelief
Then finally bent his knees to pray.
El Panteón abounds with trees,
Planted there to soothe the grieving,
Planted just perhaps to please.
Diego drank the morning air,
The breath of life—a gentle breeze,
The unheard thoughts between two trees.
“A spreading oak looms high above the graves,
And, rustling, stirs. . .”
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