Much of the Christian world paused yesterday to celebrate dead people. I did, too. Not with partying, but with poetry.
In Mexico City alone, a reported two million turned out to celebrate those who have died: Dia de Los Muertos, the “Day of the Dead.”
The Catholic Church, too, offered quieter, worldwide commemorative services in its feast of All Souls Day, to pray that the departed may be cleansed for entry to heaven.
Remembrance of the dead, however, is not strictly a Christian concept.
- In Japan, the Bon, or Obon, Festival commemorates deceased ancestors with feasts, fireworks, games, and dances
- Pitru Paksha is a Hindu tradition remembering ancestors through food offerings
- The Hungry Ghost Festival is a Chinese, month-long period of offerings to alleviate the sufferings of the dead, often with an extra seat at the table for the deceased
- Pchum Ben is a time when Cambodians gather to fill temples with food and drink offerings to ease the deceased’s sufferings
All our acts of remembrance, despite our faith traditions, are religious in origin.
So is poetry.
As Irish poet Nick Laird suggested, “Poems have the mythological dimensions of religion but lack the doctrine.”
For the past few weeks I have been working on a poem about the dead. I’m calling it Blossom and Wither. The title is taken from a thought in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Job: “We blossom like a flower and then wither.”
Coincidentally, I was invited last week to submit a poem to Jitter, an annual journal of literary fiction and poetry about horror.
Well, I said to myself, I just happen to have a piece that just might fill the bill.
Since we all are right now in a sepulchral state of mind—what with Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, and All Souls Day weighing on us—I thought I would share my poem with you.
It’s not final yet, but it’s close, and I will be submitting it for publication soon.
I invite you to read it aloud, and let me know what you think.
BLOSSOM AND WITHER
Why do we bury our dead on their backs?
Never on tummies cheek upon tucked-up arm.
Danger of drool perhaps?
Seldom on sides or seats as far as I know. No.
Always on their backs.
So they can consider the sky do you think and
kill time watching for cloud pareidolia?
Blossoms in Mama’s womb
they were bottoms-up. The babies that is.
Caskets coffins crypts. Rockhard names
for loamy berths with sateen pillows to
cradle skulls. They wither now beneath unsounded
whispers in obverse mimicry of their incubation.
Always and forever on their backs.
(Image: Gerhard Richter’s Coffin Bearers, oil on canvas, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich)
Evil exists only if you let it. If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.