This country has a way of forgetting
the dead. Of making me forget, too.
I read about other places
where dead are visited and headstones washed,
places where altars bring them home to us
once a year or always. Growing up, I heard
not to breathe passing graveyards – or what?
No one ever said. I’ve only stopped doing it
this year. I don’t know where my three
gone grandparents are, not their remains.
The fourth wants to be ash on the ocean.
I have never been to the grave of someone
I knew and we have no place in our homes
for our dead. They find places to come anyway,
out and around, Chloe chuckling at me on a bus
over the University Bridge, Kim-An by my desk
or driving out of town. Mark and Ed, Nadine.
We have no idea what to do with the bodies.
They end up chemical in corners by the highway
with the soft feet of caretakers, the held breath
of passing children. It is most of a forgetting.
We left the dead behind to come here. My people,
too. A decade on foot, guns and graves at our backs,
graves at our feet, who visits them?
I haven’t yet. And the tall northern villagers who
came on steamships, the bodies, flowers, songs
now an ocean away. My dead lie trailside and across
the salt ocean, becoming lands I have never walked.
Don’t have the right names for. Hope to tread,
and will tread with reverence. Will breathe
when I pass, and will pause. Will trust the hands I feel
at my back, dozens, almost solid where
they make contact. Of course we have broken
how to be with death when the old earth
of their bodies is too far to fall to. Nowhere
to kneel and keen. Sometimes no names to
call, or the wrong words to call them in. Losses
we can’t name in the language they happened.
Today, I am scared for names I know, loss I’m afraid
to become fluent in. Under which tender bodies,
whose palms I have pressed to my lips, graves may open.
But this week, after months of blue fingertips,
there is just enough warmth in the damp spring
to leave the window open a breath at night
and wake up every morning, when we do wake up,