Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
From The Poetry of Robert Frost edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright © 1923, 1947, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, copyright © 1942, 1951 by Robert Frost, copyright © 1970, 1975 by Lesley Frost Ballantine. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
And only where the forest fires have sped,
Scorching relentlessly the cool north lands,
A sweet wild flower lifts its purple head,
And, like some gentle spirit sorrow-fed,
It hides the scars with almost human hands.
And only to the heart that knows of grief,
Of desolating fire, of human pain,
There comes some purifying sweet belief,
Some fellow-feeling beautiful, if brief.
And life revives, and blossoms once again.
This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on May 2, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.
It is not simply the Day of the Dead—loud, and parties.
More quietly, it is the day of my dead. The day of your dead.
These days, the neon of it all, the big-teeth, laughing skulls,
The posed calacas and Catrinas and happy dead people doing funny things—
It’s all in good humor, and sometimes I can’t help myself: I laugh out loud, too.
But I miss my father. My grandmother has been gone
Almost so long I can’t grab hold of her voice with my ears anymore,
Not easily. My mother-in-law, she’s still here, still in things packed
In boxes, her laughter on videotape, and in conversations.
Our dog died several years ago and I try to say his name
Whenever I leave the house—You take care of this house now,
I say to him, the way I always have, the way he knows.
I grew up with the trips to the cemetery and pan de muerto,
The prayers and the favorite foods, the carne asada, the beer.
But that was in the small town where my memory still lives.
Today, I’m in the big city, and that small town feels far away.
The Day of the Dead—it’s really the days of the dead. All Saints’ Day,
The first of November, also called the día de los angelitos—
Everybody thinks it’s Day of the Dead—but it’s not, not exactly.
This first day is for those who have died a saint
And for the small innocents—the criaturas—the tender creatures
Who have been taken from us all, sometimes without a name.
To die a saint deserves its day, to die a child. The following day,
The second of November, this is for everybody else who has died
And there are so many,
A grandmother, a father, a distant uncle or lost cousin.
It is hard enough to keep track even within one’s own family.
But the day belongs to everyone, so many home altars,
So many parents gone, so many husbands, so many
Aunt Normas, so many Connies and Matildes. Countless friends.
Still, by the end of the day, we all ask ourselves the same thing:
Isn’t this all over yet?
All these dead coming after—and so close to—Halloween,
The days all start to blend,
The goblins and princesses of the miniature world
Not so different from the ways in which we imagine
Those who are gone, their memories smaller, their clothes brighter.
We want to feed them only candy, too—so much candy
That our own mouths will get hypnotized by the sweetness,
Our own eyes dazzled by the color, our noses by the smells
The first cool breath of fall makes, a fire always burning
Somewhere out there. We feed our memories
And then, humans that we are, we just want to move quickly away
From it all, happy for the richness of everything
If unsettled by the cut pumpkins and gourds,
The howling decorations. The marigolds—cempasúchiles—
If it rains, they stink, these fussy flowers of the dead.
Bread of the dead, day of the dead—it’s hard to keep saying the word.
They take over the town like beach vacationers, returning tourists getting into everything:
I had my honeymoon here, they say, and are always full of contagious nostalgia.
But it’s all right. They go away, after a while.
They go, and you miss them all over again.
The papel picado, the cut blue and red and green paper decorations,
The empanadas and coconut candy, the boxes of cajeta, saladitos,
Which make your tongue white like a ghost’s—
You miss all of it soon enough,
Pictures of people smiling, news stories, all the fiestas, all this exhaustion.
The coming night, the sweet breads, the bone tiredness of too much—
Loud noise, loud colors, loud food, mariachis, even just talking.
It’s all a lot of noise, but it belongs here. The loud is to help us not think,
To make us confuse the day and our feelings with happiness.
Because, you know, if we do think about our dead,
Wherever they are, we’ll get sad, and begin to look across at each other.
From A Small Story About the Sky (Copper Canyon Press, 2015). Copyright © 2015 by Alberto Ríos. Used with the permission of the poet.
The path runs straight between the flowering rows, A moonlit path, hemmed in by beds of bloom, Where phlox and marigolds dispute for room With tall, red dahlias and the briar rose. ’T is reckless prodigality which throws Into the night these wafts of rich perfume Which sweep across the garden like a plume. Over the trees a single bright star glows. Dear garden of my childhood, here my years Have run away like little grains of sand; The moments of my life, its hopes and fears Have all found utterance here, where now I stand; My eyes ache with the weight of unshed tears, You are my home, do you not understand?
This poem is in the public domain.
Sister, I waste time. I play
and replay the voices of these
hurt women flowering
like marigolds or thistles.
Something lost, forgotten—
that picture of you, violin
sewn fast to your shoulder,
bow in one hand poised
eternal. Again, the power's
gone out—tell me, what is
it to say I miss you? Because
you won't grow breasts, never
feel desire rippling across you
like bolts of silk these many
lithe men unshelf daily
for my choosing. Because you
can't reassure me I have
the right to ask anything
of women whose bodies won't
ever again be their own. You
can't blot away this utter, sooted
darkness. You don't hesitate
when another birangona asks you,
Do you have any siblings?
For decades, you've been
so small: a child tapping
on opaque windows. Now,
through the veranda's black
iron bars, I see you, dark
silhouette hurrying past,
a bagged red box dangling
from one slender arm—gift
for a lover or mother. Again,
the generator shudders me back
into light. Isn't this, Sister,
what I always said I wanted?
From Seam (Southern Illinois University, 2014) by Tarfia Faizullah. Copyright © 2014 by Tarfia Faizullah. Used with permission of the author.
Lately I have been a gap.
Moth clouds follow me to bed.
I counted them: twenty, fifty, block, choke.
In the room where I used to sleep
a breath hangs low on the bed
and hoarsens the room.
No one knows where the air is
charged and released into the world,
but it thistles.
This is how breathing fills a house
with family: breathing to draw
the buzzing to its source
and breathing to lacquer a plugged maze.
How a house fully beamed and walled
is not a house, but a husk.
How a life in the span of a few breaths
becomes a clockless thing.
Copyright © 2018 by Rodney Gomez. This poem originally appeared in Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018). Used with permission of the author.