The botanist

I stand in the small space between two graves and look at the tree trunk. Then I pull off a piece for inspection.

The voice of a priest droning Mass over a loudspeaker passes around this tree and others. Three of the tallest mimosas I’ve ever seen soar nearby.

I am killing time, waiting in this dead place.

The cemetery is tight with people, and we all have come today for the same reason: to tidy the tombs of our loved ones, a yearly event. The Day of the Dead.

Well, not all of us. Urchins come to make money. Cleaning boys.

My child bride stands ahead of me, directing the kid we hired at the cemetery gate to do most of the manual labor. We have brought bleach, broom, bucket, scrub brush, clippers, candles, lighter and flowers, mostly marigolds.

The focus of our attention: the grave of her brother who was killed at age 28. This is a family hole, and brother’s coffin rests atop an uncle, a man made infamous long ago for once firing a gun at the Virgin’s statue in the Basilica.

It’s far from a normal family which, one imagines, explains why I am in it.

I pull another piece of bark for closer inspection. It is gray with algae tones, and I like it. I have nothing to do really, apart from toting the gear from the car and, later, doing the same in reverse. I am a patient mule.

Tossing aside the second piece of bark, I look at the abutting grave where rests a young man shot dead by Federales a couple of years back. The black steel marker says his nickname was Chuco, and there’s an outline of an automatic rifle painted with acrylic.

His family is proud.

Weary of standing, I take a brief recess on the street outside, walking a block and returning just as our urchin finishes. I pay him, and my bride arranges trimmed flowers atop the horizontal slab and lights candles. Then she stands a moment, as always, remembering what it was like once to have an older brother.

By all accounts, he was a good guy. She still has another brother, a man of less worth than this tree with its gray-green bark. The good die, the bad live on.

We gather our gear, and I brush against the tree on passing. Next year we will be back at this same place doing the same thing. The dead never go away.

And neither will the gray tree with algae tones.

15 thoughts on “The botanist”

  1. I am going to leave, eventually. There will be no marker, no grave site, nothing to tidy up. It will be like I was never here, or there. I will maybe live on in memories for a short spell. That’s good enough. I have nothing against grave yards or memorials, I just never liked being around a bunch of strangers whilst alive, would make no sense spending eternity with them in the afterlife.


  2. I have opted for cremation. I used to be indecisive about that until I heard a coroner talk about an autopsy on a decomposed body. Don’t want to go there.


  3. Before we spent our brief year in Mexico, I had zero understanding of Day of the Dead and thought the art macabre.

    Then I became educated. And then we did a road trip within a month of Day of Dead through Patzcuaro, Angangueo and Cuernavaca where we saw the remnants of the holiday.

    I honestly think it is a beautiful custom. I have even noticed that as each year goes by I am starting to appreciate the art more and more.


  4. There are plenty of dead in Michoacan and it is estimated that 60,000+ are dead in Mexico due to the (drug) war. This holiday reflects in part the machismo attitudes of spitting at death. The Santa Muerte cult is more popular than many believe and has been embraced by some of the narcos here. La Señora de la Noche is watching you.


  5. When I was younger, and even more before I was born, the good people of South Louisiana spent the better part of November 1 cleaning gravesites, visiting with family at the graveyard, and just having a good ole’ time. My sister was spooked, and she was would often refuse to get out of mom’s old Buick. I enjoyed playing alongside and often atop graves. I need to go back and say hello to a few oldsters in the moldy bayou land graveyards before the next hurricane takes the coffins for a Gulf swim.


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