There is no time
to spend with you today,
lover of all things Latin
(especialmente the men),
except in songs that we once
heard together and sang.
Remember how our sister-sound
would mesh, two voices
from our mother’s throat?
We made one sound
of her parted flesh, a boat
with two sails blown full.
On this Day of the Dead I wear
your black peacoat, its pockets
finally emptied of your things:
old tissues, El Salvador keychain,
plastic packet of gum with foil
burst open over two empty wells.
There are many ways to hold lost hands.
Hold the things they held.
For two years, I touched the tissues,
the ones you worried chemo fear into.
They finally fell apart. I chewed stale gum.
I can’t recall—are these gloves yours?
I forget what you wore even as I wear it.
Your hands are cold.
Do you remember how
the grave digger surfed the water
in your Illinois grave? Oh, the March rain!
You—in walnut casket and concrete vault,
your faux gold name plate crushed
under his boot—were the board.
He rode you. Wow, look at the buoyancy,
he said in wonder, arms out for balance.
I was glad Mom had left; thought
Shakespeare would have loved this script.
I grinned. That lovable fool,
I shoveled along with him. Good worker,
he said, while I tucked you in from the edge
of the hole, slid and fell and stood and threw in
a foot of dirt. Aguas, aguas, I heard you say,
Careful, careful. Water gurgled and
sucked at clumps with thirsty slurps.
I couldn’t bring myself to stand
on your body, twice-boxed.
It would have made the work easier.
I didn’t clean my black boots a year,
whacked the clay-rich clods into a plastic pail
now lost somewhere in the basement.
I had meant to wet and sculpt of them
a headless goddess like the ones
you made in college, recuerdes?
Why do I save these odd mementos?
What good is it to clutch what enclosed you?
It only makes me sad, and, shhhh, relevado,
when I forget their context, when I forget
the way you filled your clothes, when I lose
the mud that holds you, waterproofed.
Saving and losing you, over and over:
such strange ointment, mi manita.
Translations, for my mother:
guerita: a white girl beloved of Latinos
aguas, aguas: literally waters, waters, but figuratively, move easy like water, be careful. Becca’s husband said this as she wheeled around her IV rack at her first chemo. She translated the words for me at the time so I would understand he didn’t literally mean waters, waters
mi manita: short for hermanita, little sister, it is especially a term of endearment for a sister for whom one’s love goes deeper than blood.