The day before Halloween 2018, when the veils of perception between the living dead were at their thinnest, I saw my Nana at breakfast, while I was having dinner by myself. Dead for almost 13 years, parts of her still haunt me: Lazy mornings around 10 am, she’ll shuffle in, sleep-marked by some languorous dream. Only when she would pour herself a cup of coffee and light her first Marlboro of the day, carefully holding the tips by her nicotine-stained fingers, she became truly awake, before her shrunken face, that held the entire map of the world on it, was painted, and her tipsy, gray hair was brushed out of pin curls. She wore a red terrycloth robe, an embroidered, satin granny nightgown, her striped, fuzzy socks and slippers, as if she was still alive.
I didn’t want to wake up—Mama came to visit me, she commented, explaining her lateness.
Nana’s mother Grace died two months from stomach cancer before my mom was born in 1947. Nana died two months before I got married in 2006, cause unspecified.
I wonder if she ever felt cheated like I did when her mother passed away, when she passed away—-so I asked her, as finite were another, typical morning in 2003, before Papa got sick and died in 2004, before she withered away to nothing a mere, agonizing two years later. The smoke was heavy in the kitchen as she answered me:
Yes, I did, Honey. But no one can ever cheat Death. His timetable never will coincide with the living. I’m so sorry that I missed your wedding. My spirit was there, in full force! I watched the whole thing. Whoa, that was some hot day in New York! And—my Mama’s spirit was there when I was giving birth to your Mom. That’s what I was dreaming about…I saw her sweet, kind face, and she told me that she herself in spirit was there; I was never alone. She was there even when she wasn’t.
“I still have some troubles writing,” I started, but I hesitated.
“I can’t write a decent poem about you for a long time. Trying to do it now is like slamming my head against a brick wall.”
“It hurt so much when you left forever. I felt abandoned and shipwrecked.”
You left me first—
“Nana, I didn’t die! I got a job in NYC and I fell in love. I couldn’t stay in Oklahoma. If I stayed, I would had set cars on fire, gotten a whole mess of tattoos and became a meth addict. I had to leave, so I could live…”
I had to die… so I could join Papa. I was so sad and weak. Didn’t look good at all….
“You didn’t smell good, either. Case in point,” I commented as Nana lit up her second cigarette.
I miss eating. Hey, why aren’t you shocked to see me? I’m a g-g-g-HOOOOOST!!! Boo!
Laughing out loud (LOL), I told her: “You’re not the first ghost I’ve conversed with.”
“Yep, yep yep. I’ve started when I was a kid, and recently, since I moved to NYC, I’ve talked to mostly dead composers and poets who say stuff in my ear while I’m at Carnegie Hall or at a really good poetry reading—-but, I don’t usually visualize them, as I do with you right now. You’re my Nana; we have a love bond that lasts forever. It wouldn’t be the same if I couldn’t see you.“
How is this possible, now?
“Well, it’s October 30th, and the veils of the Underworld, or whatever dimension dead people end up in (Is Heaven real? Doubtful…), are pretty thin today, but not as bad as tomorrow or All Souls Day. Also, this is the only time of the day I can have time for myself, between work and dress rehearsal with my choir tonight. Right now, in this exact moment, I’m in an Italian restaurant in NYC, eating sorbet, daydreaming/using mental telepathy for this conversation.”
Why are we here at breakfast?
“I wanted to see you completely clean and open, without any demands, visitors or artifices. Can you please give it a rest on the smoking?”
Nana lights up her third cigarette. Sorry, Babe. Nothing else to do.
“That’s why you’re dead. And why I’m so winded whenever I run fast; thanks, second-hand smoke!”
How old are you now?
Nothing. Still so young!
“I have gray streaks in my hair?!”
And no lines on your face. Still so young! Besides, the streaks soften your dark hair; they make you look pretty, wise and sophisticated…but you need at least wear lipstick, at least, to bring color in your face…and lose 20 lbs.
“Gee, great. Thanks Nana. I don’t need any venom today.”
It’s my humble opinion. And, you know I hate fat people, except your sister. She’s still gorgeous!
“I totally agree, Maggie’s a hottie. Even with the melanoma and new knee scars?”
Absolutely. She’s living a full life. So are you, Darlin’. Are you happy?
“I’m getting there. I was just happy enough for a long time, but now I’m getting happier. The fog of last year’s misery is finally lifting.”
Good. I’m glad to hear it. You have to let me go.
So you can begin again, at the beginning—your childhood memories will unlock, and you can learn from them and be inspired. You can write many more poems.
“But, what if I can’t write about you?” I asked her. She giggled and added:
Born in Norman, Oklahoma, Carrie Magness Radna is an archival audiovisual cataloger at the New York Public Library, a singer, a lyricist-songwriter and a poet who loves to travel. Her first chapbook, Conversations with dead composers at Carnegie Hall (Flutter Press: 1st edition; now out-of-print) was published in January 2019, and her second chapbook, Remembering you as I go walking (Boxwood Star Press: self-published) was published in August 2019. Her first poetry collection, Hurricanes never apologize (Luchador Press) was published in December 2019, now available for purchase online (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBooks, etc.). She won third prize for “The tunnel” (category: Words on the Wall: All-Genre Prompt) at the 69th annual Philadelphia Writers’ Conference (2017). She also won 12th place for “Lily (no. 48 of Women’s names sensual series)” by the 2018 Writer’s Digest Poetry Awards. When she’s not performing classical choral works with Riverside Choral Society, she lives with her husband Rudolf in Manhattan.