Miel Books 2016
How do we mourn those we’ve lost? What are the rituals and rites that allow us to understand our loss? To feel the measure of it? To heal, if we need healing? To reach closure, if we need closure? For any of us who have had a loved one die, these questions are personal ones. Suddenly were faced with an emptiness we cant fill and, at the same time, an often overwhelming abundance of memory and emotion.
And yet the questions are not only personal, because, when we become mourners, we fall back on the cultural practices of mourning that our society offers us. Here in America, visiting hours, funerals, eulogies, obituaries, and wakes are a few of the ways we reckon with our dead. Unsurprisingly, other cultures have other practices. In Madagascar, for example, the Malagasy people have a ritual called famadihana, where once every five or seven years families celebrate their ancestral crypts by exhuming the corpses and spraying them with wine or perfume. Its a celebration of their past, full of music and dancing, in which some of the living ask for blessing from the dead and others tell stories about them. As strange as such a ritual might seem to us, it also raises the question of whether our practices do our dead and ourselves justice? Is the way we mourn enough to help us through those we’ve lost?
These are just the sort of questions, both personal and cultural, that Ashaki Jackson takes up in her poetry collection, Language Lesson (Miel Books, 2016). Inspired by the death of her grandmother, these poems begin on an intensely personal note, where loss is felt in the body and the bones. Gradually, that note deepens and expands to encompass other losses and other ways of mourning, eventually creating a poetic music that captures our collective losses and collects us in love.