”In Spain, the dead are more alive than the dead of any other
country in the world.”~ Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), “The Duende”
Where did I read about how everything that counts,
happens in that space between laughing and crying?
Federico, the dead in my country must be
like your dead; maybe even more dead.
In the mostly dull, often helpless ordinariness
of our lives, don’t we already resemble the dead?
So many of us live in street after street packed
with poor, thin houses— The merest rain and boiling
flood collapses them conveniently into coffins.
When we trudge to work, we join other living
corpses jostling for space on dilapidated buses,
trams, and jeepneys; or in dimly lit trains
that crawl through the city’s clogged arteries.
Sometimes there are plastic ovals that hang
from the ceiling above the seats, filled with
crystals of cheap air freshener meant to evoke
the fragrance of violets. Instead they give off
a nauseating aura: a cross between vomit and wilted
flowers. So many of the already dead, exchanging coins
and bills for breaded gristle at fast-food counters;
then, taking the orange plastic trays to seats
flanking a wall with openings made to resemble
windows. From the other side, a view of ghostly ones
who rap on the glass and signal with outstretched hands—
Waifs walk around in rags, carrying little
ghosts astride one hip. The eyes of the dead
are some of the most beautiful ever recorded.
I was trying to say, Federico, that I know you meant
the dead are a deep source of mystery because they
have crossed over to that realm over which, finally,
we have no claim. In some ways of course this is true.
We don’t know anything but the grief that loss
and passing carve in the center of the gut.
We don’t know anything but the terrible uncertainty
that dogs our days and nights. Those who hunt
our children and loved ones in broad daylight
as if they were animals, are most faceless and elusive.
But what is the most heartrending of all? In every
death after their death, we come to learn their names.
Gripped by the specter of our common extinction, how
can we not fill the husks of their brief lives
with the oil of our flickering remembrances?