For my mother, Audrey Curley
Speaking little to no Spanish
I enter the graveyard of dreams
where my mother should have been laid to rest,
had she been Mexican, or known she would die at sixty-six,
and prepared a plot here. A lover of Dias de Los Muertos before
U.S. commodified, Audrey loved the grinning skeletons,
their amusement at sullen sobriety of the living. Heaven, she told me
had no business in her life nor death; instead beauty,
birds she’d seen, delicious food eaten, these moments would,
down the road, keep her best. When the time comes
Kir, I won’t be far. Hasta luego, Kiddo. Hah!
Among pink and azure-tiled graves, pots of golden
chrysanthemums, I spy a small crowd surrounding
a raised grave. Men pour beer into plastic cups
women nibble cookies, a girl skips around the cement slab
of a relative. I avoid their intimacy, shuffling un-fluently
into another alley of the dead. How can I explain the comfort
I feel here? From my tourista distance, I watch the family
eating, drinking, talking quietly in mid-day, midweek.
“Let’s go visit grandma,” they might have said.
Pinwheels spin, paper silhouettes of flowers and skulls flutter.
I intrude on four men, cemetery workers having lunch
chewing on corn cobs, slurping coke, the smell of something
like whiskey in the air. One with bright eyes and missing teeth calls out
“Buenes Tardes,” and I say the same, then side-step graves.
“Americana?” I nod. He asks my age. “Doscientos anos, Senor. A ghost,”
my joke. He stands, escorts me around mausoleums, “for rich,”
he says, smiling as if we are in this together. Walking toward
the entrance single file, he and I: a weird couple
passing a group of teenage boys skipping school, smoking.
At the front gate the man spreads tough old hands on cracks.
“Broken, yes? Word in English…tierra?”
“Earthquake!” I yell, pleased. This romantic graveyard moment:
afternoon turning to dusk, the strong hands of a man who works
where the dead pass time, me gringa ghost…me still
not over never seeing my mother, gone twenty years, ever again.
The man points to a metal brace holding the wall together, a bolster
for this crumbling structure. And then: a red bird alights a tin cross.
The family heads toward my departure, that girl sashays past me
in her blue and yellow polka dotted dress, shiny black shoes.