All Souls’ Day
We drank brandy for breakfast, ate smoked bacon,
raw onions, crusty petals of heavy
bread, and apples we picked in the orchard
at dawn. Your nephew fed field mice
to a wounded owl he kept caged in the garden.
There was a cross on top of the hill. A bronze soldier
rode a bronze horse that reared in the cobbled square,
and he pointed his sword toward the yellow church tower.
You showed me where there was once a well
where bodies were stacked and layered with lime
to prevent the spread of disease while the war
wore on. The grass there seemed like the grass
all around. I wanted to say I was sorry.
If it rained that day, I can’t even remember.
I only know where I knelt and let
my sweater slide to the ground while
you smiled and fumbled with buttons.
By daylight, the graveyards blazed
with chrysanthemums. Even there, the dead
were stacked in the earth—the land was needed
for feeding the living. On the late ride back
to Budapest, I could smell the sausage
your cousin had packed, could hear wine bottles clink
when we took the curves, and I made up words
to go with the song of a gypsy cimbalom:
that night the stars abandoned the sky
for the candle-lit hills where the dead promenade.
This poem was originally published in the Jefferson Journal. If you enjoyed this piece, please comment here, follow this site, or feel free to share.