“What is it, Mamá?”
“It’s sheep poop, my love.”
“Why, Mamá? Why do we want sheep poop?”
“Because we’re going to make compost with it.”
“Because the plants like it, my bird.”
“Because it has good things that they need to grow.”
“Well…because everything is a circle. The sheep eat the plants, and then their poop helps new plants grow, and then they eat the new plants, and poop again. And some of the plants go into the compost pile, and they turn into compost too, and help new plants grow. Like that.”
“Because the worms and other little bugs eat the sheep poop and the dead plants, and turn it into compost, and the compost is like food for the plants. See? Here’s a worm, look!”
“Qué bonito! Pink!”
“You’re right, es bonito. Do you want me to put it on your hand?”
“Do you like it?”
Late afternoon, walking through the cemetery with Isa’s hand in mine.
It’s been a long day of sitting still and being quiet for a three-year-old, and we’re not immediate family anyway; though I'm truly sorry, I honestly can’t even remember having met the guy. Ibis can represent the Alonso Ponikvars for a while.
November second is only a few days away, and many of the graves are decorated, already, with marigolds and the magenta flowers called “cock’s comb”.
I want to stop and look, read the old-fashioned names—Delfina, Tomasina, Natalio, Heriberto—see who’s been remembered and how. But Isaias pulls me along, back towards the entrance, towards the promise of chicharrines and gelatinas and all kinds of junk food for sale. On one grave, someone has placed an opened bottle of Coca-Cola. You have to open it, see, so the spirits can smell it, when they come.
I buy my son a bag of chicharrines. As usual, he requests salsa, and then requires me to eat everything that it touches. We sit on a bench next to a large, seemingly random wood carving of an owl grasping an amorphous rodent in its talons.
“Why, Mamá? Why does she want to eat her?”
“Because owls are carnivores, like T-Rexes and tigers, and they need meat when they’re hungry, and meat comes from other animals.”
“And from other dinosaurs, right, Mamá?”
“Right, my love. Dinosaurs, too.”
“Why, Mamá? Why do carnivores need meat?”
“Because that’s how their bodies are made. They need meat to be strong and grow. You’re an omnivore, so you can eat meat or fruit or milk or chicharrines , but carnivores need to eat meat, or they won’t be strong.”
“But why, Mamá? Why does she want to eat her?” (Why do we have to die?)
“Because she’s hungry, my bird, and she needs to eat meat.” (Because it’s all a circle, because that’s the deal, that’s all.)
Quiet. Crunching on chicharrines. The hole is being filled. The father and the son of the man I don’t remember meeting cling to each other, crying. Mounded marigolds seem to glow with their own light, guiding the spirits back to this world for a day.
“I love you much, Isaias.”
“I love you much, Mamá.”