My friends are dead who were
the arches the pillars of my life
the structural relief when
the world gave none.
My friends who knew me as I knew them
their bodies folded into the ground or burnt to ash.
If I got on my knees
might I lift my life as a turtle carries her home?
Who if I cried out would hear me?
My friends—with whom I might have spoken of this—are gone.
Copyright © 2022 by Marie Howe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.
A second crop of hay lies cut and turned. Five gleaming crows search and peck between the rows. They make a low, companionable squawk, and like midwives and undertakers possess a weird authority. Crickets leap from the stubble, parting before me like the Red Sea. The garden sprawls and spoils. Across the lake the campers have learned to water-ski. They have, or they haven’t. Sounds of the instructor’s megaphone suffuse the hazy air. “Relax! Relax!” Cloud shadows rush over drying hay, fences, dusty lane, and railroad ravine. The first yellowing fronds of goldenrod brighten the margins of the woods. Schoolbooks, carpools, pleated skirts; water, silver-still, and a vee of geese. * The cicada’s dry monotony breaks over me. The days are bright and free, bright and free. Then why did I cry today for an hour, with my whole body, the way babies cry? * A white, indifferent morning sky, and a crow, hectoring from its nest high in the hemlock, a nest as big as a laundry basket.... In my childhood I stood under a dripping oak, while autumnal fog eddied around my feet, waiting for the school bus with a dread that took my breath away. The damp dirt road gave off this same complex organic scent. I had the new books—words, numbers, and operations with numbers I did not comprehend—and crayons, unspoiled by use, in a blue canvas satchel with red leather straps. Spruce, inadequate, and alien I stood at the side of the road. It was the only life I had.
Jane Kenyon, "Three Songs at the End of Summer" from Collected Poems. Copyright © 2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Graywolf Press, graywolfpress.org.
Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering Over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers. Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
This poem is in the public domain.
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.
It's a gift, this cloudless November morning warm enough to walk without a jacket along your favorite path. The rhythmic shushing of your feet through fallen leaves should be enough to quiet the mind, so it surprises you when you catch yourself telling off your boss for a decade of accumulated injustices, all the things you've never said circling inside you. The rising wind pulls you out of it, and you look up to see a cloud of leaves wheeling in sunlight, flickering against the blue and lifting above the treetops, as if the whole day were sighing, Let it go, let it go, for this moment at least, let it all go.
Copyright © 2010 by Jeffrey Harrison. Used with permission of the author.