The Day My Grandmother Died

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My grandmother passed away when I was 13. 
 
She was one of those women who smiled even when the sky was overcast with great big depressing black clouds. The kind of woman who kept her cool even when the house and her life was chaotic. The kind who was generous even when she suffered and was thankful even on days when she was ill. 
 
I don’t remember her even looking at someone angrily. And we did plenty to make her so. 
 
The day she died, I remember my mother gently shaking me awake at six in the morning and telling me to get dressed. On an ordinary day I would have protested and resisted and asked why? But there was something in the quiet solemnity of her voice that begged no questions. I was 13 but I heard it almost as if she said it in so many words. 
 
I dressed and we went to pay our last respects. I saw the body of the gentlest woman in the world laid out and I cried like a little baby. My mom let me be for a while and then said – Come on – you will be late. I asked for what? And she said – For your poetry competition. I looked at her incredulously – Do you still think I should go for that? And she said in the most tender voice possible – ‘Yes. Life goes on. You cannot do anything here. And she would have wanted you to go.’ I paraphrase of course – but I think I remember most of it correctly. 
 
I tried hard to understand what my mother wanted me to know. And I think I got it.
 
It wasn’t an important exam or a life-altering competition. It was just one of those inter school things. The competition wasn’t important – the moving on was. 
 
My grandmother laughed. She cried. She lived. And now she was gone. 
It was the turn of the living now. To live. 
 
 
I did go to that competition. I wrote a poem which won me the prize. 
 
I wrote a poem on sunshine and the beach. On the day my grandmother died. 

 

Butterflies on the Wall

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It is just a wall. 
Plain and cream.
With a tree. A river. Flowers. 
With dozens of little butterflies painted on.
Each butterfly has a name and a date under it. 
Name – of a child. 
Date – when the child died to become a butterfly. 
All had become butterflies after they died of AIDS.
All of them contracted it from their parents.
All were abandoned or are orphans because of AIDS.
 
I saw the wall years ago. I never can forget it. I never can get over it. 

There is a lonely wall in a far far away land
A land of promise, of incredible and unimaginable riches
Where the earth regularly belches up 
Women’s best friends from tiny unassuming niches.
 
The wall is part of a room in the middle of a conspicuous nowhere
Where eyes are perpetually widened spotting big game
Clueless and immune to the many miserable little ones 
being stoically enacted without the balm of fame.
 
The room is in an artificial village of necessity and need
Where butterflies flutter having no wild in their fate
But live as tiny splotches of color on a shared sacred wall
With a unknown name and a heartbreaking date.
 
This room has mothers who have borne not a single child
and yet have ten creatures they hold, all the while admitting
That they wish them a poignant goodnight and goodbye 
Every night, not knowing which is more befitting.
 
This village is in a country which sees millions every year
White, black, yellow, brown merge as one ignorant soul
But different from tiny faces the color of mocha 
Carrying a dark demon within them eating them whole
 
When the country meets the village as it must sometimes
A heart will fall for a suffering blameless face
But the morning will come again and it will look but find
Once again it is gone without a trace.
 
Maybe the village will hear the cries of – Where did he go? 
Maybe a search among the proxy mothers standing tall
But if that heart keeps up the futile search, it will find
Mocha face with the others -A paint blotch butterfly on the wall.