People, my mother would say, would walk to the cemeteries where their mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, were buried and leave fall flowers and lighted candles there. Some times at night, there would be so many candles burning on and near the graves that you could see the light shining above the cemeteries as you walked back home, even if your home was far away.
But we didn't do that in America. We were Displaced Persons, immigrants, and all our dead were buried far away in Poland. My mother didn't even know where her mother and her sister and her sister's baby were buried. The men who killed them put my mother on a boxcar and sent her to the slave labor camps in Germany before she could bury her family. It was a bad time.
A little while ago, the Polish-American poet Oriana Ivy sent me a poem about All Souls Day, and she said it would be okay to share it with people.
Here's the poem:
Sometimes I think Warsaw fog
is the dead, come back
to seek their old homes –
wanting to touch even the walls.
But they cannot find those walls,
so they embrace the trees instead,
lindens and enduring chestnuts.
They embrace the whole city, lay
their arms around the bridges
and the droplet-beaded street lamps;
they pray in the Square of Three Crosses,
kneel among the candles and flowers
under bronze plaques that say
On this spot, 100 people were shot –
they bow, they kiss
even the railroad tracks –
they do not complain, only hold
what they can, in unraveling white.
-- Oriana Ivy
If you want to read more of Oriana's poems, she has a new book out called April Snow, the winner of the New Women's Voice Poetry Award. Some of her poems are available online at the journal qarttsiluni. She blogs about life and poetry at Oriana Poetry.
If you want to know more about Polish and Polish-American All Souls Day, Deacon Konicki's blog has a post about the way it is celebrated in Poland and Robert Strybel has a piece on the way the day is commemorated by Polish-Americans in the US.
By the way, the Polish-American community in Buffalo, NY, has organized an All Souls Day commemoration. There's an article about it in the Polish News.
A piece by Anna Maria Mickiewicz about an observance in England is available here.
The photo is of an All Souls Day commemoration in Poland.