Memory of a ‘giorno dei morti’ in Italy

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Memory of a ‘giorno dei morti’ in Italy

by Simona Carini

What I remember most about that day is the cold wind. It was blowing strongly, and yet it could not push away the heavy low clouds and wipe the sky clear, so it was dark in the early afternoon. The cypresses lining the gravel path from the cemetery’s heavy iron gate to the chapel swayed as if wailing unconsolably. A group of people had walked the narrow road from the village to the cemetery in a procession led by the priest, Don Gabriele, imposing in his black cassock, which swirled around his legs at the mercy of the biting wind.

A child then, I was terrified not of the cemetery, which I had been visiting regularly with my father since an early age, but of the elements: the wind could topple trees or tombstones, make pots and vases tumble from columbaria, and if it stopped, the low clouds would weep torrents of rain on us. I had accompanied my aunt Lucia to the ceremony. She was rapt in devoted prayer, while I observed the other villagers and wondered why nobody looked concerned.

The prayer came to the closing “Amen” and all we could hear was the wind. I thought the shared part was over and I could walk with my aunt to our family’s vault and the stories it held and told, stories I never got tired of hearing. But in a gloomy, bass voice, Don Gabriele started singing over the wind:

“Dies irae, dies illa …”

I froze.

“He’s conjuring up ghosts,” I thought.

I wanted to run away but could not move. I knew we were honoring the dead and it would have been disrespectful to leave the ceremony, but why did it have to be so scary?

Never again did I go with Aunt Lucia to the cemetery on November 2nd and in my mind on the Day of the Dead the sky is always blotted out by a mass of pewter clouds, the wind blows hard, and God is angry.

Born in Perugia, Italy, Simona Carini writes poetry and nonfiction and has been published in various venues, in print and online, including Intima – A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Italian Americana, Sheila-Na-Gig online, Star 82 Review, the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, the American Journal of Nursing. She lives in Northern California with her husband and works as a data scientist at an academic research institution.

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