just under a mantle of blue purple mountains, lingering veils of copal incense,
join the black iron crosses, white lilies, and prayer.
families here are quiet.
women with long black braids joined at the end with
peeks of ribbon that run up and down the length of their years,
like bright hands holding life itself together.
everything keeps time, even their robozos,
the cloth of life,
holding on to sacred events that comprise all life.
years later wrapped in a coil placed like a halo on
a young girl will carry an earthen olla full of
spring water from the foot of these same blue purple mountains
that shoulder the timeless panteon
where those who have walked the foot trails from birth to death
rest wrapped in their robozos eternally.
the ancient art of acknowledgement.
invited into the home, before a single word is exchanged
one always walks first to the family altar.
here you begin your greetings to the ancestors,
all those who have lived before you.
incense is offered
and rises like a white plume where the breath of the living
mixes with the permanence of the ever-after.
the veil lifts and you turn back to greet each family member one by one,
oldest to youngest.
the taste of ephemeral life sweetens each moment.
never in my life have i walked into a room at once
so completely empty, yet so overwhelming full.
a dozen male elders of the village are here.
it is dark, save candles and incense.
the altar spreads like an endearing hand across the front of the small chapel,
the flowers are the flowers you would walk past
all the days of your life, if this was your village.
there is one huge wooden cross.
it seems rooted to the earthen floor and reaches for the ceiling.
it is knotted and rough with age, smooth where hands have held it
on long processions for hundreds of years.
i stand at the entrance and long to enter...
a single woman arranging armfuls of flowers
smiles and nods a kind welcome.
i slowly walk in.
one at a time stands and walks over to me in a ritual greeting.
welcoming in me a place of belonging.
i sit on a simple wooden bench and close my eyes.
it is then that the chanting begins.
i have no photographs from inside this chapel,
yet the time i have spent here is etched on my heart forever.
the chanting becomes circling waves of emotion.
i find myself crying in a sea of forlorn letting go.
outside families honor their dead ancestors,
inside the chanting of the elders, i have lost my singleness
and become the all.
never have i felt such utter lament,
or have i been more firmly woven into the family of man.
i ask my Zapotec friends days later about the chanting.
they know immediately. yes. this is the last song.
when someone in their village dies the entire village walks
behind that worn cross.
the family bears the weight of the coffin that holds the body of
they walk the same foot trails of their ancestors of hundreds of years,
below the blue purple mountains to the panteon.
chanting the last song.
where on arriving,
you would first greet the ancestors on the family altar, then the living.
were when you take your leave, even from a crowded room...
you would acknowledge each and every person in a ritual farewell.
where when you finally depart the land of the living
you are carried on the shoulders of your loved ones
across the footpaths where you have marked
your one holy life
and everyone will sing for you the last song.