Putting on your grandfather's coat

Me and my maternal grandfather, John Damasiewicz, peace and blessings be upon him.

Today is Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which I became familiar with and began celebrating twelve years ago when I moved to Texas, just north of the Mexican border. If you want to be moved and educated about this holiday, this movie will do the trick.

This week I began assembling my altar for my ancestors, honoring those of both blood and friendship who've loved me, and whom I have loved. I've felt their presence keenly this month, when the veils are thin. A few weeks ago I felt a thousand eyes upon me as I settled into bed. They smiled and said, "We're here to help you" and I felt tears in my eyes.

My sense as I listened was that 'you' was not me - but you, as in the greater you, you, me, all of us. What a thought. God knows we need all the help we can get to care for our precious world, and to care for each other.

This poem is for my grandfather Damasiewicz.

When my grandfather died, twelve Novembers ago now, at the ripened age of 90, my mom saved one of his shirts for me. He had had many years of illness before his death, and he was often cold. He wore thick plaid shirts during every season, keeping him warm.

On difficult days, I put on his coat. I wear it on cool days, too, which we have little of in Austin, where I live. So most of the time I'm wearing his coat not because I'm physically cold but because I need a different kind of warmth around me. I feel him with me when I wear his coat.

I feel him with me as I write these words to you.

Putting on your grandfather's coat

Though you live in tropical heat

you love to wear coats even when

it's not cold. You wear your grandfather's

plaid shirt on hot summer days

because of the way

it wraps you in faded softness.

The collar is smooth against your skin

and the long sleeves drip into your

lunch, leaking ribbons of oil.

A coat can buffer you from rain and cold.

But the one you long for protects

you from harsher elements –

The prying eyes of others. The shame

of another's rage. The cluck of disgust

when you stumble in your mistakes.

This is the coat you want to pull

across your shoulders,

down over your heart

and button up to your chin

so no cold or wind can get in.

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