How to Celebrate my Life by Johanna Ely

How to Celebrate my Life
(El Dia de los Muertos)

The first year
after I die,
celebrate my life
on my birthday.
(El Dia de los Muertos)
Set up an altar
in the living room,
under the Rivera painting
of the woman embracing
the white calla lilies.
Put everything on that
heavy carved wooden
table next to the window.
Light a church candle
with an ornate picture of
the Madonna of Guadalupe
wrapped around the glass
to help me find my way home.
Tempt me with a round loaf
of sweet Mexican bread
covered with candy sprinkles,
pan de muerto.
I want a ghoulish turquoise
skull with bright orange
marigold eyes to sit on
the table and grin at you
as you walk by, my former smile
hidden behind its clacking teeth.
Leave me a plate of soft, gooey brie,
and a box of Carr’s water crackers.
Cleanse my palate with a silky red cab,
and don’t forget the cut crystal goblet.
Fill a clear vase of yellow roses
with your tears. A simple ceramic
bowl of salt and seashells will
remind me of the ocean.
Place my favorite calaca, the skeleton
dog wearing the violet sombrero,
next to an open book of Haiku poetry.
Read her a poem about longing and a full moon.
Call her “perro de mi corazon”.
If my friends are still alive, invite them over.
Hire a loud, cheerful mariachi band and
dance all night to Rolling Stones cover songs.

Place all my poems
in a neat pile on the altar.
Let each friend take a few
off the top until the stack is gone.
Tell them the blank sides are good
for writing down lists.
(the living like to do that)
Finally, take off your shoes,
peel off your skin, and
rest your tired bones.
Stay awhile. Remind me,
that I’m really not alone.

by Johanna Ely

Editor’s Note: Though this poem is not ekphrastic, the imagery is as vivid as a Technicolor photograph with the saturation turned up way past max until the color becomes not so much a visual phenomenon as an emotional framework for life.

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