On the Cemetery Road

          for Molu Zarpeleh, 2010-2020

This cemetery road has never felt so walked on.
Hundreds of heels, grinding gravel down to dust.
Our trudging behind your hearse is the only sound
beneath the wailing of your mother. They say
that people in your native land still mourn in ways
we white people no longer do. We no longer gather
to wash the body. We no longer build the coffin,
the body’s last house. We no longer carry the body
to the grave, shouldering together what we’ve lost.
We no longer dig with our own shovels the final bed.
We no longer lay the body down in the ground
with our own hands and cover it with a quilt of soil.
We no longer rip our clothes and shred the air
with moans. So, here in this silence, on this road,
it’s the wind in our faces that wails with your mother,
wanting her not to feel so alone. And now a baby, too,
is crying. It must remind her of you, her first, her only
son. Molu. I never met you, but I whisper your name
in rhythm with my steps. Molu. They say your bike
and sandals lay in the soft grass at the edge of a pond.
Molu. They say that’s where they found you, drowned
at the bottom. Molu. They say it was an accident.
They do not say why a smart boy who smiled and danced
through the halls of his school would wade into that water
when he couldn’t swim. Molu. Our loose procession
up this lonely stretch of road will bring you home
to your ancestors. Molu. They are waiting all around
your canopied grave. We don’t have the eyes to see
them but already, marching down this hill, we weep
to feel them, wrapping their arms around this world
of sorrows. Even in death, Molu, you are kind. Forgive
us for not keeping you safe enough. Forgive us
for slowing our steps, for holding back, for holding on.

Play Notes: This poem is based on the funeral procession of 10-year-old Molu Zarpeleh, a Liberian immigrant residing in Brookings, SD. Molu drowned in a pond. As of this writing, his death is still under investigation. Sometimes pouring heartbreak into a poem helps me contain the grief. Perhaps you could write a poem about a recent loss that you (or your community) have suffered.