"The Other Side" Contest Winners / March 2015 (Issue 27)

Befriending The Dead

by Aditi Rao

You took a continent with you when you died.
I visited, recently, reluctantly, your foreign
grave, took a too-efficient train to a city
that does not speak our names. Your tomb
hidden amongst crosses and flowers, and I
working to convince the caretaker I'm right

about the remains of a friend hidden right
on his morbid map of people who died
waiting for friends and visitors. I
am, he says, a pilgrim. My foreign
kneeling and chanting by your tomb
reminds him of a world he lost, a city

filled with lovers, windows, flowers. A city
where the dead were permanent, had the right
to privacy, the right to constancy. Where a tomb
was forever. Where one could stop, once one died,
the work of accommodation. Where foreign
limbs never captured used graves. I find I

am made of questions and crystals. I
find my soles traversing this city
that swallowed you in a slow, foreign
gulp. I find myself walking right
next to a stranger whose laughter died
in this city, now hides by the tomb

of a writer dead long before that tomb
knew him. We grow into each other, I,
this stranger, and these people who've died,
bound by the cobblestone of this city,
the centuries woven into it. We earn the right
to befriend these dead, no longer so foreign.

Over time, the stones too grow less foreign,
the church of once decapitated kings, a tomb
to ideals lost to the return of the right.
Tombs full of lipstick and cigarettes, I
remember our midnights in another city
before you began to die. Before friends died.

I think of the moon on a foreign, bursting shoreline. I
excavate dreams buried by your tomb in this city,
right where you left them, alive, four years after you died.  
Aditi Rao This is a Finalist of Cha's "The Other Side" Poetry Contest. Aditi Rao on "Befriending the Dead": In September 2014, I received an unexpected opportunity to visit Paris, and I was able to take the train out to Versailles to visit (for the first time) the grave of a dear friend who had died over 3 years ago. This trip was also where I met Akhil Katyal, a poet and translator who instantly became one of my closest friends, and who pushed me to think about the uses of form in poetry. "Befriending the Dead" brings together these two important experiences from that trip. The poem uses the repetitive form of the sestina to contain the ways in which themes of love, belonging, death, and foreignness repeated themselves in different iterations throughout the week — the walking through a city that belonged to someone I loved but was completely foreign after her death, the walking with a new friend who became so instantly familiar as to question all ideas of foreignness, the deep sense of transitoriness, the comfort of turning foreign into familiar. [Read Vinita Agrawal's commentary on "Befriending the Dead"] [Back to "The Other Side"
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