What are You Doing
Among the Dead?

In the dark I am crawling
on the bedroom floor of my sister’s cancer memory,
asking, do you need to pee?
We are whisper laughing.

I am waving
my arms, demonstrating
Shiva’s dance over the pygmy
of me.

Taking credit for love, I am dancing
at a Mexican Hindu wedding,
where I later leave a dead woman’s shawl hanging
on the back of a seat.

Dust is collecting
on two boxes of animal ashes: Mojo and Siami.

I am questioning the dream
of my father’s mother never smiling,
of my advancing lips, her turning cheek.

That photo? This is what I believe:
It was only a sunfrown she made, holding her new baby.
The story is mother’s mother was never mean.

The dead are storytelling me.

2017

2 Responses to “What are You Doing
Among the Dead?”

  1. eduardo says:

    The stanza about the Mexican Hindu wedding suggests such a story to be told. (Just the juxtaposition of Mexican and Hindu already grabs the story-hearer’s attention.) Not having the poet to provide more details — What about the dead woman’s shawl? — we gentle readers are left to fill in the gaps ourselves.

    The title itself immediately offers (at least) two interpretations: “What are you doing?” in the sense of your not belonging among the dead — What are you doing, there? — and also (the interpretation I think is intended), Here you are among the dead. What actions/services are you doing, since you’re among the dead?

    Okay, I also laughed at, “…the pygmy of me.” You, if it is indeed you you’re poeming about, are not anywhere close to pygmyness — and if it’s not autobiographically you, well, the image is still one that brings a smile.

    Finally(?), I can smell the richness of this poem’s muck. You’ve gone deep with this one.

    • wordweed says:

      Yes, there is a story. In the first year of my college teaching here at MCC, I had the great privilege of teaching a gifted student named Beatriz who took several of my classes. In Humanities III, I introduced the class to Shiva, that cosmic dancer who made his way into Romantic poetry. I get pretty animated when I talk about Shiva–raising my arms in the air, my foot aloft, to tell them about the dance Shiva makes upon our tiny egos, the little pygmy who can’t see the larger view of the dance of the universe, of creation and destruction– and when Beatriz and her theatre class wrote a who-dunnit murder mystery play about MCC instructors, she played the role of me, and at one point, hopped up on a table spouting and gesticulating enthusiastically about Shiva. It was hilarious. Years later, at Harvard (yes, she is brilliant), she went to watch a Hindu dance dedicated to, you guessed it, Shiva. That evening, she met her future husband for the first time. Attending her wedding was a joy for me to witness…a beautiful Mexican family joining with a beautiful Indian one. She is now Beatriz Hodavdekar. So, while love did all the work, I do wonder if she would have ever gone to that dance if it weren’t for Shiva. I wore a sheer shawl from a secondhand store to her wedding and accidentally left it behind. Did it belong to a dead woman? I don’t know. Probably.

      The rest of the poem is full of my beloved dead. Thanks for reading them/me.

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