You climb into everlasting and so it begins
ancestor, nine nights of praise, of honour,
white spirits poured into the ground to feed
your thirsty mouth. The sting of alcohol
at the back of your throat. And so, it begins
you join our ancestor’s altar. Your existence
now relies on memory and traction. How you
make your displeasure known through dreams
dropping food as it approaches the lips
of the family member’s mouth, feed me,
you say we are hungry, so we create plates
and water, plus candles to light your feast
of favourite food from this short life.
My aunt favoured smoked herring, the salt
of it (like the sea, like the salt of the earth)
with dumpling and hard food. How
we feed you to protect us, age-old customs
slinking through slavery to remain. The
youths might have forgotten every ritual
but remember the classic – to throw spirits
for the soul of their fallen brothers. Even these
killed by the hands of kin, skin black like theirs,
whose lives became full stops, from knives
or gunshots, and today parents bury their young
men. While youths too young to know your ways,
fling down rum, pour whole bottles of spirits
by gravesides, part homage, part ancestral, part
knowing that they could easily be in there,
part thankful for another day. You there
schooling these youth men in how to be ancestors
in the afterlife – there is no language
in the landscape of our ancestors to contend
with all this loss. So, pour the rum, just pour.

first published in The Poetry Review 112:4.

Reproduced with kind permission from The Poetry Review.

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