The Year the Monarch Didn’t Appear

by Daniel Hudon

My mother, before she died, said that a tree grew within her soul and now it was her time to blossom. And I could see her deep-rooted yet dancing still in cantatas of color using the wind for a shawl, the sun for a bonnet. Among the marigolds draped over the graves as if the sky had rained yellow flowers, the mariachis were already singing their hearts out. But the mariposas had not come. The souls of our departed loved ones coming back to visit, my mother told me when I helped her prepare the ofrenda for my grandmother. Like the first snow high in the mountains, but they were colorful, living flakes, falling and flying, filling the sky. Often I was surrounded, a blizzard of joyful fluttering, I was so happy I could have sang. We put her photo on the top tier and made some mole and pan de muerto and I added her favorite chillied tamarind candies. The other tiers we loaded with fruit – mangoes, apples, oranges, large bunches of bananas – then put in a few candied skulls and decorated it all with marigolds and sunflowers. The tree that leaves and the tree that remains are the same tree, she once told me. I placed a shot of mescal on the bottom tier and lit a candle next to it. I saw them tying so many miles together in ribbons of gold and black, gathering on some distant peninsula, weighing down the branches as they waited for a breath of wind to carry them across. I kissed her photo when I put it in the middle. It’s just like the bees, La Catrina said from under her feathered hat and I knew in my bones she was right. Night had fallen. Now where is my happiness I heard myself sighing as I lit a candle from her candle and went to the cemetery.

 

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