Lake of the Isles

January 2021

After my grandfather died
I waited for him to arrive
In Minneapolis. Daily
I walked across the water
Wearing my black armband
Sewn from scraps, ears trained for his voice.
Migration teaches death, deprives us
Of the language of the body,
Prepares us for other kinds of crossings,
The endless innovations of grief.
Forty-nine days, forty-nine nights—
I carried his name and a stick
Of incense to the island in the lake
And with fellow mourners watched
As it burned a hole in the ice.
He did not give a sign, but I imagined him
Traveling against the grain
Of the earth, declining time.
Spirit like wind, roughening
Whatever of ourselves we leave bare.
When he was alive, he and I
Rarely spoke. But his was a great
And courageous tenderness.
Now we are beyond the barriers
Of embodied speech, of nationhood.
Someday, I will join him there in the country
Of our collective future, knowing
That loneliness is just an ongoing
Relationship with time.
It is such a strange thing, to be
Continuous. In the weeks without snow,
What do the small creatures drink?

Related Poems

Parkinson’s Disease: Autumn

When I woke for school the next day the sky was uniform & less than infinite

with the confusion of autumn & my father

as he became distant with disease the way a boy falls beneath the ice,
before the men that cannot save him—

the cold like a forever on his lips.

Soon, he was never up before us & we’d jump on the bed,
wake up, wake up,

& my sister’s hair was still in curls then, & my favorite photograph still hung:
my father’s back to us, leading a bicycle uphill.

At the top, the roads vanish & turn—

the leaves leant yellow in a frozen sprint of light, & there, the forward motion.

The nights I laid in the crutch of my parents’ doorway & dreamt awake,
listened like a field of snow,

I heard no answer. Then sleepless slept in my own arms beneath the window
to the teacher’s blank & lull—

Mrs. Belmont’s lesson on Eden that year. Autumn: dusk:

my bicycle beside me in the withered & yet-to-be leaves,

& my eyes closed fast beneath the mystery of migration, the flock’s rippled wake:

There Will Be No Funeral

in loving memory of Concepcion Cruz Agullana

Everywhere is a cemetery,

and there will be no funeral.      on either side of the Pacific Ocean.

            No one will give last rites to my lola,    No guessing nurse will call my name or hers

I will have heard no doctor’s steely voice                             There’ll be no waiting room

to call her ‘the body.’             Over the body.      There will be no priest

            swinging a pendulum of incense         no prayers      no rosaries       there’s no money

                        No undertaker will proclaim her life                       There’ll be no glass plate     covering

her wooden casket.           There will be no casket   it’s too expensive              There will be no party

no lumpia            no noodles for no life long enough

                           No black attire               No hands clasping tissue or other hands

‘The body’ will not be seen          There will be my grandma in an urn–a tiny basket

            her curled body that lilted into the afterlife        after dementia   twenty years after grandpa

                                                  there’s no room for every  body

there’s no house for everybody to come in and stay    no room for sorrows    There will be no placeholder no

land     no candles        no water         no six-foot empty         she will be unmarked

                                                            my lola, an unnamed earthquake

           No one will hear her long name how it stretches a sunset   if my lola dies and no one sees   is

she still my lola?  is a canyon a series of cliffs?   there’s no place in the apartment for what rituals

maybe they will send her to the Philippines my grandma is a maybe                   and we are not they

         did you know                                                                                  when airlines carry the deceased

          they are called passengers

    they travel in their coffins        passengers in seats     are called        existing passengers

this small poem the only eulogy            where we’ll put my grandma     her existence laid to rest in a

poem

                      in this non-ilokano language                  a killer              rows and rows of dirt

money doesn’t grow                        maybe someone there       will bury her

                 how will i carry her     when only darkness has the space?

where will we put my grandma when we can’t afford our grief?

A Way of Seeing

It all comes from this dark dirt,
memory as casual as a laborer.

Remembrances of ancestors
kept in trinkets, tiny remains

that would madden anthropologists
with their namelessness.

No records, just smells of stories
passing through most tenuous links,

trusting in the birthing of seed from seed;
this calabash bowl of Great-grand

Martha, born a slave’s child;
this bundle of socks, unused

thick woolen things for the snow—
he died, Uncle Felix, before the ship

pushed off the Kingston wharf,
nosing for winter, for London.

He never used the socks, just
had them buried with him.

So, sometimes forgetting the panorama
these poems focus like a tunnel,

to a way of seeing time past,
a way of seeing the dead.