Les étagères de la nuit: “Reliquaries [in Saint-Pol-de-Léon Cathedral, Brittany] containing the skulls…of people disinterred from under the church floor, and later from the cemetery.”
Further up in the highlands where I am from,
it was customary to strap the dead in full regalia
to a ceremonial chair, in view of all who came
to pay their respects. In time— a month,
perhaps more— smoke from fragrant leaves
and twigs rendered the body leathered,
leached of weight and fluid, light enough
to fold then carry into a limestone niche,
up in the hills where only the wind,
amorous to the last, has permission
to thread its voice through desiccated
flesh. And even then it is not the end—
Rocks and trees house spirits, parts
of souls that traffic through the gaps
between worlds: spasm of powdery moth
wings on the window screen, faint whiff
of jasmine at dusk in a garden worn
nearly to ruin; the sudden blur
by the abandoned hummingbird feeder.
Even in another part of the world, in that
church crammed with relics —a thorn from
the crown of Christ, a bell, 32 miniature
boxes the size of birdhouses— the bones
of the severed body defy all final exiling.
Why else would the little chapels holding skulls
buffed to ivory, bear the lettered names of the dead?
Why shape their apertures like hearts and sweet clover?
—Luisa A. Igloria
11 01 2011
In response to an entry from The Morning Porch.