Monday, 2 November 2020


by Joan Colby

It is the Day of the Dead
And I have no sugar skulls to offer,
No tequila, no red flowers,
Only the memory of your rictus,
Mouth open as if to curse.
I thought you were still living,
Small intestinal whispers,
But Gabriella said no, closing your eyes
With her palms. I would rather
Remember you, young in an apron
And your maroon sweater, making Welsh rarebit
For Friday supper. The cheese edged brown
On the toasted bread.

Today a raw drizzle and the oak leaves
Falling in a slow mournful chorus.
All Souls Day is what we called it,
This time of recollection. You had
Green eyes, black hair. I know now
You were pretty though as a child
I saw you as worried, a cigarette
In your stained fingers or a rosary.

On the Day of the Dead, the Madonna
Is honored. Or Santa Muerte
Who loves the assassinated.
The piñata of recollection
Breaks open and everything falls
Randomly. How eagerly we grasp
What we can. Mother, I can’t believe
What you believed. The better place
With your family gathered; someone about
To carve the turkey, your sister’s famous
Lemon meringue pie.

None of this matters on the
Day of the Dead. It is finished.
They carried you out on a gurney
Like a parcel. I wept with sorrow
And relief. It was over, your life that had
Diminished to a chair and a bed.
You were content, you said.
I was not. Shamed that I hated
This transformation. How you
Perpetually saluted the
Empty air.

On the Day of the Dead, the dead
Rise in my dream: Mother,
Father in the ’41 Dodge singing off-key
As we drive through the Big Horns
Where years earlier the radiator
Of the Model-T boiled over.
They filled paper cups from a
Mountain creek laughing.
I wasn’t born then. I was still
Where the dead are.

* * * * *

"Dia de los Muertos" was first published in Gargoyle (Vol. 71, 2020)

Joan Colby’s Selected  Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Her Heartsongs from Presa Press, Joyriding to Nightfall from FutureCycle Press, Elements from Presa Press .and Bony Old Folks from Cyberwit Press.


  1. "The piñata of recollection." Economy of words and sentiment. I can see the narrator clearly, shakeg her head, hearing her sigh, and now getting on with her day.

  2. Oh wow. Very visceral....full of aches. Well done.

  3. Lots of guts to this one, both in subject (intestinal whispers), images (rictus) and sound (again, rictus). Lots of harsh consonants, harsh emotions (hate), and grief (but nowhere sentimental). Wonderful poem.