Day of the Dead and Ghost Season
DAY OF THE DEAD
It’s the second Day of the Dead. Your marigolds
froze; you never got around to shaping sugar
skulls, or dead-bread, but you’re raking
the hill road, even though you love the fallen
leaves, because you loathe the blare
of your neighbor’s blower, and because it’s gentle
exercise for the shoulder you tore trying to roll
a kayak which had no plans to go anywhere
but over. The westerly breeze rises,
and the sun leans through that cold roll
of cloud over the far ridge, and suddenly
it’s leaves, leaves everywhere, turning
and turning, sifting, spinning, sailing.
The whole shining height of the air
fills with them, innumerable as shaken grains
of salt: oak, poplar, cherry, poison
ivy, even a few from the stripling
American chestnuts still starring this hill,
too young yet for the blight. They blow between
porch boards, and into the lee of every rotting log,
and onto the road you’re raking, making
you wonder about this use of your time.
Every current, every level of air is brief
harbor for a goldfinch leaf, the way it was
when you were a kid, outside for this instead
of at your desk. The sun pours through
the leaves, and turns the dun wall
of the neighbor’s house briefly white.
And you’re forty-six, and your parents are seventy-
five, still strong, still clear. You can walk;
you have all your fingers, gripping
the rake. Rain has filled the well. The woods
are bright with the sweet-betsy bushes
and the tawny hickories offering back
the light they drank all year,
and the leaves are flying like spirits
as you rake the blessed road.
Like the crazy old woman
you’re slowly becoming, you say aloud
to the road, I can never forget this,
by which, of course, you mean you’ll never remember.
Shed leaves are everywhere, numerous as souls
of the dead. They tumble and plunge in the cold
shallow river, hurrying
on to the black deeps of the dammed
lake at the end. Some ride
the surface tension, still
grasping at their element, air. Some have begun
to sink, caught in the transparent
currents tugging below the brim-skin.
Others go dry, crisped as if
with fire; they mass in the road,
huddle under logs, unsure where
they’re supposed to go—directions
were unclear. And they come, as if led,
to all the portals of this house: some wedged
in crevice and cornice, some driven
between screens. Some dash in like cats
when I open a door, crumbly but
unobtrusive, hoping perhaps
for a place they can stay. They
rustle like ghosts, voices mostly
gone. An oak leaf long
as my forearm, tobacco-brown,
eddies down a clear spiral of air,
floats through the door I hold ajar:
inconsequent, nonchalant, nobody
here but us leaves. I pin it with a stare,
lift it by the stem. Grandpa? I say.
Grandmother? Isabel? Which one are you?
“Day of the Dead” previously appeared in Pinesong (North Carolina Poetry Society, 2014) and Marks of the Witch (Jacar Press, 2014).