Mourning
I don’t tell my daughter about these ghosts.
This doesn’t keep her from asking if the dead

stay dead in their caskets, their hands folded
in eternal origami, a broken-necked swan,

a bear shot in the head. She draws their eager
faces on the steamed-up mirror and they’re

happy just to be seen again. They’re looking
in the yellow bathroom warm with splashing

water and sandalwood candles dripping wax onto
my hands. The sound of small hands clapping.

The dead are bright, looking in from a dark
so long they’re miners crawling down my throat

without lanterns, spines lined with stars,
canaries to sing a last song to save the living.

The truth, my grandmother told me, is our bodies
are haunted, whether we invite it or not. By fallen

mirrors or fireflies rising or some other type of spirit
that can’t bear to live outside her skin, the way

her body won’t live outside the earth it’s buried
so tightly in. I want to keep holding my daughter

in my hands like an Easter palm, a fragile, lavender
moth that’s dying or terrified. First my grandmother

died, then this baby slid out into this world too early,
pulling with her my grandmother’s white hair. There’s

something in you that breaks when your body fails
your child, a sky splintering glass on the floor, one

you can’t paint back, so many shards you’re still
stepping on years later. When I sang about sleeping

doves in willow trees, it was to both of them.
When I sang, I imagined that when I die, I cocoon

back into my own mother, dropped into the heart
of her, in a field where what’s plowed is unplowed

overnight. I imagine my mind the color of what
I hate most about myself, that I’m always waiting

for someone to die. My grandmother said the dead
forget their names for a while. They mourn loudly

like Victorians shaking their jet beads. We all bow
our heads like nuns. If you can crush a creature

between your fingers, but don’t, you love it more.
Can you say your name? I asked my buried grandmother

and my baby who couldn’t nurse the same thing.
Parting my lips with her dried-in-fire hands,

my grandmother stepped between my teeth, shaking
her risen bones like she was at a party, hymning, 

I wanted to die at home. And I knelt, holding my baby
as if we were still the same body, and this is why

I mourn: because I go back to when I was a child
watching spirits walk the walls, crying for blossoms

made of water or light to put under my pillow,
to lay my head on something real grown

out of the dirt, so I wouldn’t feel so alone,
when I cried for everyone I would outlive,

headless ghosts squawking in my belly.
Copyright © 2004–2017 Memorious