cemiterio da ajuda

chinese cemetery ©papa osmubal

chinese cemetery ©papa osmubal

cemiterio da ajuda
john mateer

We would expect families to be living in the vaults,
so many are small stone houses with painted doors and curtained windows,
the coffins mirror-smooth and on bunks along two walls,
and there are fewer than have been abandoned
on any street in an actual city. Through one grimy window
I see a shelf like a mantelpiece with framed photos
of a woman as a child and as a teenager and then of her as a bridesmaid.
On the clean floor there’s a line of yellow teddy-bears
and in a darkened corner, encircled by fallen petals, a vase of roses.
Why am I looking in on this sadness? In another vault,
across from the grey dusty coffins, broken shelves;
and in another, a monochrome studio-portrait of the entire family
as would be hung with pride above a matriarch’s bed.
Why am I weeping again as I never do in my adopted country?
Why, as I am wandering the streets of memorial homes and cenotaphs,
hiding in the shade of Cyprus trees charred by the noon sun?
When I cross paths with the three old women bundled in their black,
they don’t murmur Bom dia. To them I am less than the dead,
not even a curator of remains, not even a ghost-writer – a tourist.
I’m sick of this. I can’t stop weeping.

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