Memories of the Dead

a lamentation


We shared a golden melon, you and I, so long ago in your dusty home that night. A good-natured smile glowed on your face observing me, the uninitiated, force down that medicinal red Uzbek cola. No, it didn’t kill me, you laughed, your cropped beard flexed and stretched — unable to restrain such a jolly face. You could have been an intimidating man, if you wanted, with your large hands; you looked so big in your calf-length kameez. But the warmness of your spirit prevented you, and you had the time to press their hands and inquire after family. A practice which ten-thousand salaams must have taught you, filled as you were with such gentle & absent-minded kindnesses.


We drove there, you and I, toward the rising moon, across the passes into the western wild. In that crossroads of empires, you discerned the invisible pathways. Where are we? Exactly between there and here, that gully, that green-flagged gravestone, this line of slender trees. You knew them all by heart. It was your place; you were prepared, at home in a sturdy yellow truck. Water, diesel drums, food, spare parts, bolts & wrenches, tarpaulin & rope, blankets for the biting cold. You were Readiness in a truck, crawling at 5–8 Kph across the treeless steppe. And over the long hours of jolts & lurches, strapped down in that high seat, you showed me such a place as I had never seen. An austere, impervious beauty, cold blue lakes in the sand, the feet of giants…


There were tanks on that road too, and roofless homes. Terrible signs and the blackened stumps of trees. ‘Ah’, you said, ‘but if only you could have seen the beauty of this place as it was once, long ago…’ And there was a peace, a contentment on your face. You had the look of a man hiding joy, who is on his way home, who is secretly thinking of what he will do first when he reaches there. Yes, you had seen that place, and saw it still though you did not bother to look at what I saw out the windows, what was down there, all around us on every side. No, instead your hands steadied that great wheel, that yellow truck crawled ahead in its calm revolutions, and your eyes were fixed, gazing at a point off in the distance. Will we ever reach there — the place you are seeing?


My friend, do you remember me? My friend, what was the look in your eyes last week? Was your gaze fixed and steady? Did it finally appear to you at last? My God, oh my God, may it have been even so. How softly must their bodies have fallen, embraced by angels of God, who proudly held them at the moment the greedy soil and jagged stones were wetted red, again. After countless years and days and miles — why these stones, why this day — the irresistible violence searched you out at last. Who can bear it? Father, what now, is the count of tears? Only You know it. Where is that point in the distance on which his eyes were fixed? You are there. And he is there now, and everything is beautiful once again,

just like it was.

12-August, 2010, Mussoorie, MJC#334 — “These are my memories of the Dead, who have reached their Rest.” For Dan Terry (1946–2010). Photography by author.



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MJ Coffey

Matthew J. Coffey is a writer with a background in civil engineering. He spent much of his adult life in India serving with EMI.