The Day After the Day of the Dead
And yet I love,
On autumn eves, when silence reigns above,
To visit some ancestral village keep,
Where all the dead in solemn stillness sleep;
Where every simple marker has a home,
And in the dark no pallid robbers roam;
Where only some old villager comes by
To greet the mossy stones with prayer and sigh.
A spreading oak looms high above the graves
And rustling, stirs. . .
Alexander Pushkin, 1826
Trans. James Falen
Early morning, November 3, 2013
The Day After the Day of the Dead
A taxi drops off a passenger at the Ajijic cemetery,
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.
Pan de muertos, garbanzo beans just roasted,
Some fruit, tortillas steamed or lightly toasted;
Balloons and banners, Catholic manners;
The 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.
From belfry to El Panteón
The seven church bells now intone
Eight notes upon a xylophone.
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.
Shafts of sunlight streak a cloudy sky,
He hears the morning songs from birds on high:
Calls that pierce the quietude,
Calls that break his solitude;
A rooster’s cry rips the dawn,
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,
Convulsed 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,
Sending his meager earnings home,
Needed and welcome, however slim.
A sudden splash of tears on cobblestone.
Diego felt so utterly alone.
A morning shaft of light illuminates
A photo of her bright and smiling face,
Her glossy black and plaited hair
That prompted even girls to stare.
A wondrous smile to tantalize,
Those Aztec cheekbones, Spanish eyes!
And suddenly he sang aloud:
Blue Spanish eyes
Prettiest eyes in all of Mexico
True Spanish eyes
Please smile for me once more before I go
Soon I will return
Bringin’ you all the love your heart can hold
Please say si si
Say you and your Spanish eyes will wait for me.
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.
Diego slowed his pace and finally 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.
Once more he heard the ravens call
And glimpsed nearby a soccer ball.
It lay before a fresh-dug tomb,
And there he found to his dismay
His boyhood friend Octavio
Untimely passed away.
And he recalled the village fields
Where back in youth’s bright golden days,
They’d often spent their time in play
For freedom, glory and for praise.
He turned away in further grief,
The sun now lit his way;
He staggered on in disbelief
And finally bent his knees to pray.
At length he rose and looked about;
A cat sat peering back.
Behind the cat a tombstone rose
And loomed before him—glossy black.
No wreaths or garlands graced this site,
No fruit or flower cluster,
No mariachi band last night,
Just smooth black granite’s somber luster.
Chiseled there a name Diego knew—
That foreign lady Pedigrue
Whose home his Anna Rosa cleaned each week.
The tombstone then began to speak:
Don’t weep for me, I’m safe, you see,
Within this tranquil crypt.
The poet’s wine I gaily sipped
And put it all behind me.
The time of life, the rhyme of death,
One final look, one final breath. . .
Now look around this village keep,
No one here is counting sheep.
No one here resents this place,
For life abounds and shares our space.
Diego drank the morning air;
Light bathed the brilliant colors there.
The floral wreaths of red and white,
The brilliant yellows blazing bright,
The blossoms blooming in the light.
The golden flowers turned to greet the sun.
The bougainvillea, not be outdone,
Displayed its red and purple hues,
As though to spread some joyous news.
El Panteón abounds with trees,
Planted there to soothe the grieving,
Planted just perhaps to please.
Diego sees the dappled trees:
The cedars, pines and sycamores;
He takes them in, his heart at ease;
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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