Memorial Day in Manitowoc Wisconsin

Memorial Day in Manitowoc Wisconsin

I took an inhalation and like Bashō I traveled North 
Returning to native soil only to find my mother gone
Though unlike the hair in Bashō’s haiku
The silver strands caught in my mother’s hair brush 
Did feel as though they would melt in my fingers
She was Wisconsin strong 
And so was her hair
And it still smelled like her

I exhaled and traveled south to find my father gone
He had left to chase my mother’s ponytail into eternity
I inherited his sense of humor 
And wore a giant plastic wedge of cheese on my head
As I gave my father’s eulogy in a bright green sari 
His favorite color

Here I see my Mother 
Here I see my Father 
Here I see my brothers and sisters
And the line of my family reaching back through beginning-less time
We left coins on my parents tombstones 
Safe passage Mom and Dad for crossing both the rivers Styx and Lethe

My family takes so many photographs and movies
Among them 
Photographs of smiling children dancing on tombstones and graves sites
Like little Śivas and Kālīs
The older generations tell stories of posing in taffeta funeral dresses
Next to the caskets of the departed for stiffly posed pictures
Or cradling departed siblings in their arms to create final mementos

Photographs like these inspired my sister to become a photographer
And a Wisconsin State Treasure
But by the time Julie had died 
We had forgotten how to practice some of the old rituals
The rituals that had once allowed us to embrace Death like a lover

Now the younger generations call the old ways
“Wisconsin Death Trip”
Once we knew our rituals of life were true 
Because our rituals of death were true
Large gravestones baring the family name 
As certain as hand and footprints on a certificates of live birth

Here I see my Mother 
Here I see my Father 
Here I see my brothers and sisters
And the line of my family reaching back through beginning-less time
And when my time comes 
Leave coins for me, too
Two rivers to cross 
Same as it ever was

American Gothic
There they all lay in a Manitowoc cemetery 
My cradle named after Algonquian Demi-gods that rule nature
Though not death
The ancestors continuing to teach us
Even from the grave
Teach us about time 
And the folly of the vehement dreams and nightmares we choose to live
They are dust to dust
And they are the native soil 
On which I was nurtured 
And from which I drew my strength

Sing of Carl Sandburg and the Midwestern bread basket
Corn ripening and falling to the earth only to rise again
Become the popcorn my nieces and nephews eat while watching Disney movies
Become cows
Become milk
Become cheese
Become butter
And the bodies of the farmers that plant and replant crops generation after generation
Stalwart sunburned men, women, and children whose graves we pass 
On the way to our family plot
For the annual Memorial Day picnic

The cookies are made from molds taken from tombstone imprints
Children  merrily fight for particular flowers shapes
Or the letters that begin their given names
And the adults spill a little beer
Some because of clumsiness
And some on purpose

From time to time Memorial Day coincides with my oldest brother Phil’s birthday
And then there is birthday sheet cake too
It is cut into perfect squares and served on paper plates 
Waiting for the greedy tiny finger to take it 
From the top of the largest granite family headstone 

Sing of graveyards on Memorial Day and family picnics 
Celebrating the generations past and present 
Variations  on a singular theme
Experiencing a counterpoint in well kept bone orchards 
Proving that Omar Khayyam was right

Sing of Bashō’s cicada
And it’s song that showed no concern for imminent death
Like the children eating snicker-doodles, brownies and bars
That have been neatly packed in old shoeboxes saved for just such occasions
Carefully arranged in layers separated by wax paper

One day my breath will merge with the atmosphere 
Let me cover my body with this good rich earth 
Into which my ancestors have merged
In which they now rest
And on which the children are now playing
Their bodies too will someday become the loam that feeds America

Immortality is a song passed down from generation to generation 
Always changing 
And never changing
It can be heard in the lowing of cows waiting to be milked 
And in the sound of seed corn and wheat filling silos at harvest time

Life giving grain falling like rain

Let my body become this good earth too
The first of many who will follow me 
And in the midst of all who have preceded me
Let me remember all of my deeds 
Good and evil 
So that I can say
I have learned

Let me remember 
Let me remember 
Let me remember 

It momentarily died again to became me 
Now let me live again to become It all


(By Heidi Lindemann and Michael Perry)

(Image Credit: Cicada, by Hobun Kikuchi / Ukiyo-e)