Monday, October 29, 2012

i am stretched on your grave

I am stretched on your grave,
     And will lie there forever.
If your hands were in mine,
    I'd be sure we'd not sever.
My apple tree, my brightness,
    Tis time we were together,
For I smell of the earth
   And I am stained by the weather.

When my family thinks
    That I'm safe in my bed,
From night untill morning,
    I am stretched at your head,
Calling out to the air
    With tears hot and wild,
My grief for the girl
    That I loved as a child.

The priests and the friars
    Approach me in dread
Because I still love you,
    My love, and you're dead.
I still would be your shelter
    Through rain and through storm.
And with you in your cold grave,
    I cannot sleep warm.

Táim sínte ar do thuama, trans. Frank O'Connor

It is a poem I have never sung to my daughter. I took out the stanza about first love and maidenheads. I loved her in a different way. But I still loved her since before I knew I would ever be a mother.But when I hear it, I cannot help but think of Lucia. I imagine myself, fingernails filled with soil and earth, grasping into the brown grass, prostrate over her little body, weeping a brackish mixture of love and blubbering. Grief is nothing like I imagined. I was less cool than I thought I would be, less composed. I was a mess, bloated and drunk in the early weeks, and later, angry and salty.

She had no grave. We buried her in the wind. Fling her ashes to the sea in wild gestures of release, but palm her tiny urn. It is a slight of hand. Now you see her. Now you don't. We cannot let go.

I prop myself on my elbows, aiming at the gravestone. I drove to Boston for the weekend to meet up with Jess and Julia and Niobe. We ask Niobe to take us somewhere morbid and she picks a cemetery.  There is a stone with a carving of a skull with wings. The angel of death. A calavera. It is the first I see, and quite unself-consciously, that I lie on the grave of a young women, snapping a photo with my Android.

I read her name.

Jane a Negro Servant of Andrew Bord, something or other...She was 22 years old and 3 months. I put my forehead on the space above her skull.

You were someone's daughter, Jane. 
And so today, you are my daughter. 
I am stretched on your grave.
I will lie there forever.


There is a hurricane in town. We pack a bag and make candles. My daughter takes a bottle of rose oil, and spills it across the table. The studio smells like the Virgin Mary. The hurricane grabs a window and forces the mechanism open. I lock it shut again. My roses carry on an elaborate dance outside my kitchen window. And I realize suddenly that I cannot save the roses.

Atlantic City looks gone. I don't miss it. I'm worrying about my own ass right now. I see all these pictures of alcohol and parties pop up on Facebook and miss drinking in a storm. I don't miss drinking, as a sport or a lifestyle. I just miss a nice bourbon now and again. It is like that, isn't it? A cigarette never tastes good after years without smoking, though I have imagined it a thousand times. And similarly, a drink would not end well. It would take me somewhere much worse than the hurricane, but I still wish I were able to have just one (even though I never was able to have just one.) And that is the irony of missing drinking. I miss a kind of drink I never did. I grieve a person I never was.

The power went out for an hour or so, then back on again. Sam lit a fire, and we watched a movie about Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren. I drank coffee. It is a full moon tonight, and a hurricane is in town and I stretch on her grave, and create an altar for Dia de los Muertos. The lights flicker again, so I leave you with pictures of my altar.

If you have day of the dead pictures, link them in the comments. I'd love to look.


  1. I love your altar. It is so tangible. Yet tied to the spirit world.

    Thank you for sharing. Love to you and yours, both here and those on the other side.

  2. Angie, I just wanted to send love, and calm winds.
    The windows are shaking here in our 1 1/2' 1950's home. The leaves are blown so hard that when they hit the door, you'd think someone was out there.
    The gusts are so strong, I'm hoping our trees stay standing. It's true, we can't save the roses.
    I hope "Sandy" is gentle in your area.
    My Internet connection has been dodgy this evening...but I just wanted to drop you a line.

  3. The alter is so beautiful.

    It took me a while to place how I know the poem. I've heard Sinead O'Connor's version. I found it beautiful & sad even at the time, although it has completely different meaning for me now. Kind of sums it up, though, doesn't it - "Because I still love you, My love, and you're dead."

    Stay safe. Stay dry.


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