Klaus Pfeiffer, by permission

November, and here in the northern hemisphere, days are getting shorter. Light is thin and clear, or thin and grey; all but the most tenacious of leaves are down. Storms are predicted. It's the time of year some say the walls between living and dead are at their most fragile.

I dig out my painted La Catrina tile, build a little shrine with my love, light candles early. Time itself feels fragile -- a moment ago, wasn't it yesterday, wasn't I just stepping across the threshold of school on my first day? Wasn't I sitting beside my father, saying goodbye, saying hello?

Almost by accident I found three poems by Mexican poet Carmen Boullosa, whose work is new to me, in the journal Latin American Literature Today. I fell in love with those poems. Here is one.


     Everything rushes
                                   (the fish, the ant)
     and I toward the tomb,
                                   my final crinoline.

     I run, from the basting and the grammar of my dresses
                                  (great crinoline),
     toward the laughter drawn on the dead man's skull.

     "Goodbye," her final words. "Death to the power of the crinoline!"

     I travel aboard my tomb,
                                                     in a crinoline my entire life.

     said the fish,
     "I'm out of here in a crinoline."

     It journeyed and journeyed,
     the whale;
     the sea was its crinoline.

     Everything rushes,
     and I to my tomb
     to take off my crinoline.

     From the governance of the crinoline,
     they take from me an oar
                                                          and a chocolate.

                    -- Carmen Boullosa, translated by Lawrence Schimel

And this, which lives inside me, though I'm completely incapable of memorizing poems, by the great Wisława Szymborska. 


     Against a grayish sky
     a grayer cloud
     rimmed black by the sun.

     On the left, that is, the right,
     a white cherry branch with black blossoms.

     Light shadows on your dark face.
     You'd just taken a seat at the table
     and put your hands, gone gray, upon it.

     You look like a ghost
     who's trying to summon up the living.

     (And since I still number among them,
     I should appear to him and tap:
     good night, that is, good morning,
     farewell, that is, hello.
     And not grudge questions to any of his answers
     concerning life,
     that storm before the calm.)
                -- Wisława Szymborska, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Images of "Twenty Views of the Lachine Rapids" by Klaus Pfeiffer/by permission