old stone church
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How to Bury Your Mama

You take her big Black hands in yours & you bury them beneath a white sheet that covers her face & yours. You watch her strong Black body slide into the back of a black hearse parked in the grass of her front yard outside the picture window she cleaned for 35 years, your whole life.

You go back into the house & stare at all the empty spaces she once filled: the
kitchen where her soul food was cooked every day & night—dumplings, cobblers, collard greens, banana puddings, pies, rolls & every homemade thing never to be made again.

You stand in her bedroom where the mirror’s edge is decorated all around with
pictures of you & yours, where the scent in the curtains she ordered from Sears have instantly increased in value.

You sit in her old wooden rocking chair with the old sofa pillow for a cushion & read every letter you wrote her that she had saved; you see all the pictures of all the happy moments you shared, Christmases & birthday cards, your first book—all tucked away in a drawer like stacks of cash she was setting aside for tough times.

You stumble through all the obituaries of family & friends, grandparents, great aunts & uncles, piled neatly signifying Black death & Black grief, Black love & Black wealth, the best & saddest funeral songs & soloists, a circle of life documenting history like a Black library.

You look at your Daddy, 89 with Alzheimer’s, trying to figure out where she has gone, why Engram’s boy took her away in that black car of his because she is not dead; you look at him looking for her & wondering where they laid her & you wish, for a moment, that you could not remember just like him.

You remember the old folk & the Bible saying how quickly we would all be changed. In the twinkle of an eye, she left the house in a wind that blew her last breath. You look at all the people, all the pictures, all the skirts, shirts, suits, costume jewelry, and church hats she wore & touched & you touch them too, drape them all over you in hopes of feeling the warmth of her sun again, forever.

She is absolutely everywhere—in old sweaters, hairbrushes, pillow shams & in a black leather Sunday School change purse filled with bobby pins. You still see her.

Even in all the faces that are not hers, you see her trying to survive, trying to breathe, trying to find words, in spirituals & in hugs; you see her in motherless children, and God, in this medium between Jerusalem & glory. You want to go with her.

You plan a home going. You decide what & who is good enough to display her worth, to celebrate her life, to say the right words, to play the right music, to sing the right songs by which men, women, children, a whole community will remember her forever.

You sit in a Black church because a Black church is who she was & you watch people pass by you to view what, of her, remains. You imagine she is somewhere with two wings flying high among angels, singing gospel, cooking & taking care of all the dead children who got their wings too soon.

You see her smiling in a heaven as you sit all bereaved & broken trying to exegete scripture, trying to decipher God—wishing she would just walk in, that it is all a dream, that she is the Lord’s next big miracle to be raised from the dead at Shiloh.

You are declared numb, stung by the deadly sting of cancer, left behind with too much to bear, people she loved who, two by two, march behind clergy & casket to a grave plot she bought, for she believed in preparing a place for her own self.

You melt as the Black preacher speaking blessings over the living & the dead pours ashes that are not hers into a grave that is; you wish everything you ever learned about death was a lie. In the days, months & years ahead, you hold on to the promise she made, the promise she kept, every word she said—like it was gospel because she was the only truth you ever knew; you know that now.

You do not agree with death; you do not understand god. You take her hands in
yours & you bury them beneath a white sheet that, eventually, covers all.