Burying a person you love, actually doing the work,
gives you a capable feeling like baking bread.
So what if the spirit remains to flicker around
the bones. It doesn’t mind the dirt like we do.
What if the ghost of the heart keeps beating.
Good. Heart burning like a holy bush,
heart sweet as an orange stuck full of cloves,
heart calm, blue eyes unblinking.
See a flat skunk broil on the highway.
Watch the news. Carry the body on
your shoulders. Burn it with roses,
put it in the ground with rice and wine.
Don’t worry. Heart sequined like Christmas.
It knows what to do. Even when you’re dead,
when life may always hang over your head
for the sake of ritual and mystery.
But being left alone is another thing.
Walking back home at night with a cup
of bitter beer you carry beneath your shirt—
it sloshes on your shirt, it has a few
bugs and leaves in it. You’ll finish it.
You may keep on drinking it for years.
You may never forget how it used to be.
Death changes with climates. In such a hot country
decay is so quick that there seems less to fear.
And thirst so rampant. Tiny clay skulls
for the earlobes are charming. Sugar skulls
for the children. It’s hard to laugh at malice
but you laugh at what happens to everyone,
like you laugh at love, and know it’s serious.
A woman who knew she wanted to kill herself
suddenly wondered if she’d have the energy.
That made her grin. The ones who kill themselves
have their own place to go. It’s not heaven.
It’s dark, cold, but romantic in its way.
In a dark room, but alive, and drunk, dressed up
for someone and sweating, leaning out a window
to look down at the alley where gamblers hunch
with the dice that give off sparks when thrown.
Or you straddle the chair in front of the fan
before you get up for more, transistor, battered
flamenco guitar. Dancing’s a matter
of life and death. You feel them both at once.
Someone said, You need good memories
to keep you occupied through all the dead’s
long boring afternoons. Do all you can.
(published in Grand Street 45, 1993)