Zornitsa, your second cousin, draws
the skeleton of our lineage on paper.
I have trouble following her rattle
We visit their graves,
photographs stained with lipstick kisses.
Grief makes an intruder of me.
Standing before your father’s headstone
I am older than he ever was. My grandfather.
There are taboos: certain stories
get repeated, others buried.
I’ve heard it said
your uncle worried himself to death
after you escaped to the West
disappearing without a word
of warning. Reproach is closely guarded
hushed and amplified over time.
His wife, your aunt Stefka, harbors
a quiet opinion about your mother:
she was different — различен —
but won’t tell me how.
We light thin yellow candles
that won’t stand
and scatter flowers
from the roadside stall.
The cemetery is overgrown with weeds:
a jungle, Stefka says.
Her stockings catch on twigs.
Metodi, her younger brother,
sweet deep old man
who reminds me of you,
drags grass and dirt on his soles.
This pilgrimage wears
even on veteran mourners.
I swallow the impulse to help them clean up,
afraid of crossing lines.
They take us to the church their father built.
Metodi looks up in awe at the frescoes
hands clasped behind his back
mud-caked boots on marble.
He distributes coins
for us to light more candles
for the dead.
Weak flames and religious iconography
waver in my watery vision:
lives lived devastatingly
out of reach.