Lament: Moirologia

Joy Manesiotis

The women throw themselves back and forth,
their bodies young saplings in wind, but they are
close to the grave and they sing to death: Oh slowly,
oh mournfully, I will begin lamenting

spirits rising to wail with them, the ghosts of their voices
loosed across dusty paths, paving stones traced in white.
shouting out your sorrows, Mother--one by one! rising
and rising, the pitch of voices a high wind
on the mountain, a breath winding the olive groves, the keen
pushing against the blue doors, against the cool mud wall
of the church, the women s voices as one, pushing
against the men s dark clothes, the priest's slow footstep:
the men shuffle in the corner, the women fall back
and forth, dragging nails across their cheeks, Ah Mother!
you knew how to embroider the sky with all its stars!

they sing to the one who has passed over, they sing
to her hair turned white, to her hands broken in work.
They sing to her bones. First they must bury her. Day after day
they will clean the grave. Month by month. Washing,
washing. My mother has travelled far away.
One day they will roll back the dirt. They push back
the dirt. They reach in, fingers against bone. And they lift
her bones, one by one, sweet digits of her fingers, bowl of her pelvis:
To whom can I call out? they wash her bones, they rinse
each one. Cradle her skull. Her skull
passed from hand to hand, soothed in each lap, rough
palms cupped over the crown. Ah Mother!

And who here will say the women cannot sing to her now?

Note:Moirologia are Greek funeral laments composed and sung by women, now discouraged by the Church. The lament sections used here (italicized lines) are from Anna Caraveli-Chaves, "Bridge Between Worlds: The Greek Women's Lament as Communicative Event," Journal of American Folklore: 129-157.

Copyright ©1998 Joy Manesiotis. All rights reserved.

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