I wonder if Auntie Betty believed in reincarnation?
A friend’s father once told me:

The dead are really still here.
You can’t see them, but they are in the background.

I have come to believe this strange tale, and
find the presence of the dead less distasteful.

Do the dead want to comfort the living?
I have witnessed strange things:

flashlights turning on suddenly in my apartment
then music playing by itself, and

objects appearing when I most needed them
in full view, with ease of access.

Now, I feel warmed by ghostly presences
in my mind, and I feel less lonely.

I recently imagined my Auntie mourning
her only son’s death

in the afterlife and being present at my burial.
Is she a martyr of death?

Will she leave this pitying circle of tragedy, and
move on without us looking back?

When will our scars become healed?
When will we all become whole again?


Mother why have we worn brave masks, watched
Danis women chop off a finger after a relative died
In your anthropology class at Hunter, gone to
Your sister and her son’s funeral, escaped
Rats and roaches at your mother’s apartment,
Driven to school during snow storms, discussed
If I would be unhappy if you left Papa, smelled
Of sweet Charlie Perfume?

Mother, mother I know why you have posed so lovely
Sitting in Central Park in your fishnet stockings, hair in a chignon
And listened to winter birds while reading your novel.
I know your ambition is to be a writer.
You talk about the day you will graduate with your BA
In English. I know we wore brave masks,
Saw the Danis women chop off a finger when a relative died.

We lost two eyes when your sister and her son died:
You wore Dark shades almost every day.
We escaped the rats and roaches by moving to oriental carpets
And antique furniture. We loved
Central Park. We visited there often
Watching the long green grass and the big rocks.

We promised ourselves a great life: to be whatever
We wanted to be. I was going to be an actress,
You were going to be a novelist.

Today we are warriors, poets and witnesses
To the world getting better. One day
Our visions will all be keen and obstacles
Irrelevant, but till then, we continue on
With our sacks across our backs, and
Our esteem held high in our laps!

Lisa Rhodes-Ryabchich @miraclebound  is an English instructor with University of the People, and the author of “Opening the Black Ovule Gate,” 2018; “We Are Beautiful like Snowflakes,” 2016, both from (http://www.finishinglinepress.com). She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and was a recipient of a Martha’s Vineyard Creative Writing Fellowship in 2016. Her poems have appeared or forthcoming in Prachya Review, Dash Literary Journal, Nothing Substantial, Chaffey Review, WRATH Anthology by Pure Slush,  SLOTH Anthology by Pure Slush, Epiphanies and Late Realizations of Love,  Civilized Beast Vol III, Remembered Arts Journal, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Greed 7 Deadly Sins, I AM STRENGTH, the Medical Literary Messenger, Literary Nest, The Writers Café Magazine, The Moon magazine, Madness Muse Press: Destigmatized Anthology, http://www.praxismagonline.com, Gather Round: A Collaboration of Cave Canem Workshop and Retreat Poets, The Journal of Poetry Therapy and elsewhere.