incantation to the departed by Jessica Ram

when I drive past the body of a deer,

struck down in the middle of the road,

sometimes whole, sometimes not,

flesh often matted with tire tracks,

hide and fur melting into the asphalt,

eyes glazed and star searching, always

reflecting the light that knocked theirs away,

I hear them. which is to say, they are welcome here.

they enter always through the toes, moving to

take comfort in the lining of my stomach,

in the caged warmth of my chest, they often

sit vibrating amongst the vocal chords in my throat.

I will hold them for as long as they need. how could I

purge a soul that doesn’t belong to me?

my faith urges me to offer a prayer, to repeat mantras

over the deceased, to find their loved ones and offer company.

because surely, there must be someone waiting for them

to come home, and grieving is always softer with those

who know loss.

in high school, a classmate of mine was hit

by a car. he died. ever since, a wooden cross

dressed in flowers and ribbons perches at the

top of the hill on the side of the road where his life

was taken. a reminder, that death once visited this spot.

I didn’t know him, but after all the afternoons I’ve driven past,

I’ve gotten familiar with the energy of his memory.

and I wonder,

what our highways would look like if we planted a

flower in every location that’s known death. a flower

for every lost soul, every breath ripped too soon from this earth,

a tribute to everything lost, with something birthed.

I think that’s why, when someone I loved committed suicide,

we planted a tree. a place to return to when bodily form

no longer remained. maybe that’s why she picked daffodils,

bright yellow and white with orange rims, plucked them

right from the earth and arranged them for me. beautiful

and waiting, all six bright bouquets living in old wine bottles

and spare vases. they welcomed me home days after I’d

cremated my grandmother. they welcomed me again,

the night we were told she killed herself.

when someone in my family dies, we morn for days,

we gather on the floors of each others homes, sit crosslegged,

singing as though they can hear us—because we know, they can hear us.

we are loud and grieving and have no shame. so forgive me,

for thinking death deserves more. forgive me, those who’ve

passed through this body of mine, if ever I’ve held you

for too long. forgive me.

Jessica Nirvana Ram is a first generation Indo-Guyanese who is currently an MFA candidate at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She is focusing her studies in poetry, but identifies as both a poet and an essayist. Jessica received her B.A. in Creative Writing at Susquehanna University in 2018. She is a nonfiction editor for Honey & Lime Literary Magazine. You can find her tweets about teaching, editing, writing, and all other life things @jessnirvanapoet.