All Souls’

All Souls’ Day

                         Hungary, 1989

           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.

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