Vietnamese Mourning by INA HRENOSCHI

Everything is prepared,

cut up fruit

burning incense,

Buddha’s hand

and

sweets

next to the portrait.

People bow

people whisper

people pray

for the absent one.

The dead are cold

and that cannot be helped

but their memory is warm,

and so is the weather.

 

On the morning I got home, however,

it was windy,

the cutting wind of the East in November.

I had forgotten its sharpness

and how it pierced through layers of clothes,

no matter how tightly I wrapped them around me.

It brought with it

all kinds of memories,

darting into me, from unexpected corners,

a sensory attack.

You holding my hand,

both of us wrapped in wool scarves,

the seams almost touching our lower eyelashes,

faces facing downward,

hiding from the wind blowing snow into our faces.

– I can’t breathe,

I would mumble through the fabric,

looking up at you,

– Keep looking down, you would say,

I looked down

– Now breathe, you would say

and I breathed and it worked.

Somehow what you said, worked.

 

I had no hand to hold now,

just the cold of the morning,

to envelop myself in.

The priest said to say goodbye, by touching the coffin.

I had never stood beside a coffin before

and the gesture felt empty.

I looked down, but the wind had stopped

and the “sun with teeth” had come out,

– It’s the winter sun that doesn’t warm you,

you had always said.

I said no to the priest and he stared

while the others passed by you…

It made me long for a Vietnamese mourning,

with fruit and incense,

instead of silence and crying.

_

How do we let go of our loved ones to who pass away? Do we praise them, like gods, for their presence in our lives? Do we keep them alive inside us?

Ina Hrenoschi’s poem hints at a different way of saying goodbye.

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