As part of our All Saints Sunday service, my church puts out a book, and we can write the names of the dead, either the ones who have died in the past year or the ones we keep in our hearts.
It reminds me of the book the monks of Mepkin Abbey put out each November, although the Mepkin book feels like it will be more permanent. When I was there several years ago, I wrote the names of my mother-in-law and grandparents who had died. I found it much more moving than I thought it would be to write the names on the page and to think of that book being preserved at the monastery. I tend to believe in monasteries as protectors and preservers of culture, regardless of what comes at them, and so inscribing the names felt important.
I've also thought of the idea of a book of the dead as a powerful symbol for what has been lost. I haven't played with this idea except as it pertains to people. Maybe I will this week.
Yesterday my heart was heavy not just with the memory of those who are lost to me through death, but of jobs lost, of relationships strained because of that loss. I'm thinking of my old school. The school I'm mourning, however, is not the school that exists right now. It hasn't existed the way I think of it for many years. Let me record this idea for a poetry writing morning this week.
I had a good poetry writing morning yesterday. I revised a poem that I wrote on Tuesday, the literal day when we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, if we're so inclined. It's really more a response to Halloween and the Day of the Dead than All Saints/All Souls celebrations--and probably not a comforting poem for those freshly immersed in grieving; go here to read it.
For those of you who need a poem for your pre-election Monday, I'll post the poem that I wrote some years ago. I was thinking of the book of the dead and people who are lost to us, even though they may still be alive; if you want a comforting poem for your pre-election Monday, it, too, is likely not going to fit the bill. It was first published at Escape into Life, and it's included in my latest chapbook, Life in the Holocene Extinction.
Book of the Dead
Even though her mother lives,
she writes her mother’s name
in the monks’ book of the dead.
She writes her mother’s name
in this giant book and steps
away before her tears
can blur the ink.
She walks to the bank
of the river and watches
the mist dance its last
movements. A runaway
slave or a Native American
soon to be slaughtered
would not be a surprise.
She drives back to the hospital
and slices the fruitcake
bought in the gift shop, baked
by monks in a far away monastery.
Her mother, who used to mock
fruitcake, who used to count
each calorie, this stranger gobbles
every last crumb. On the window sill,
seabirds eye the scene. She tries
to remember the smell of salt.