All Soul's Day, and three other poems

All Souls’ Day
Vilnius is empty
you told me Lithuanians don’t have
happy holidays
it’s hard to disagree
from what I know of my twenty years in the country
I remember walking through Rasos Cemetery
which holds the remains of great
figures in history
largely forgotten
as most of us become
on this day with throngs of
onlookers kicking up dust
the cemetery feels strangely welcoming
like a theme park with death as its
selling point
stones growing out of the ground
like black and gray teeth
rounded from centuries by
the elements
people leave candles at the
tombstones
the ground illuminated
stretching into the night

do the dead complain of
the clatter above them
like a noisy upstairs neighbor
are they happy with the attention
or indifferent?
the cult of burial
leaders us to believe
that we have done the right thing
by putting them in the ground
from whence they came
but we will never truly know
until we ourselves are forced to
become part of the earth
that we avoided for so long.


Danse Macabre
do you remember
how we decided to hitchhike
to Obinitsa for the cemetery celebrations
along the way
many helped us to
reach our destination
two policemen going home for lunch
a family with three children
and an aspiring film director
in an old 1950s black sedan
who hoped to capture the sights and sounds
of the living paying homage to the dead
we arrived as the priest was leading
the crowd around the church
in a dance of death
your relatives had already gathered around the headstones
of your ancestors, set up a folding table right on the
graves and began telling stories:
of your great-grandmother that one day went down to
the river and never came back
and your uncle who died in Vilnius
while serving in the Soviet army
maybe he had gotten involved with the sergeant’s daughter
or crossed one of his comrades
then they looked at me the way people
do when they’ve said all there is
to say
I had little to add
so we raised our glasses
and drank to the bottom of the grave


Some Things Never
there I was
right in the middle of my sister’s living room
not really paying attention to the TV screen
as it always happened when they said
“Biggest Drug Bust in Nebraska State History”
and then you see a familiar figure
your brother
doing a bad job of hiding his face with a folder
his smart-ass smile shining through
the gavel struck the table
seven years in Leavenworth prison
but then he changed
became a Bible-thumper
carrying the Word with him everywhere
his gut became a mountain
he wrote Hallmark card dedications as part of his work in the slammer
he stopped drinking
got out
fell off the wagon again
had to move back home at 40
found a job
lived alone
sorted things out
made amends with life
years later when I asked him how the drug bust went down
we had never spoke about it
he said
we could have escaped if


Life on the Small Screen
Before Everytown, USA
there was smalltown America
Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen
blaring over loudspeakers at
baseball games played on
balmy summer nights
at football games
as fans wrapped themselves
in a cloak of values
the lights shining into
space
an ideal world
you lived that small screen
life among the cornfields
supported your local
sports teams
waited for the parade
that kicked off the county fair
and you left to pursue
your American dream
in the big city
years later you find a
town you lived in
that you never knew
your pastor had been thrown out
of the church
for wanting to sleep with
another woman
his alcoholic wife
might have spurred his
desire
the driving instructor had
molested his daughter
people spoke about it in whispers
there were alleged abuses
at the nursing home
they hadn’t been washed for weeks
and there had been a
drug ring run through a local business
long before Stranger
Things was a glint in the eye of
any producer
smalltown America
the bold and the brave
the young and the restless
going to the city
to build their world
as the old and immobile
sit in their homes
enjoy their remaining years
in a world that has become
just like the one on the small screen
just that it’s real
one you can’t turn off
at the flick of a remote control.

  • Jayde Will

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