"Love and Death," by Francisco Goya

“If I Die” & Other Poems About Legacy

The following poems reflect on the ideas of identity and legacy. Regardless of how humankind evolves, a seminal question remains: what have we left for the world after we’ve gone? Though many of us prefer to assume that we have a special assigned significance in this world, the truth is that none of us are inherently superior to another. As COVID-19 raises our fear of mortality, these poems remind us that the most invisible existence can leave something of value in its wake, but that we must pay attention in order to notice that legacy.

If I Die

I fear I have done nothing
and thus this restlessness,
these stiff and painful joints
regret my insufficiency.
When carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus recede
who will remember
what I myself endeavor to forget?
Sinkholes of deserved delinquency,
Dark caverns of missed opportunity;
One brave action could have left a mark,
but life like mine allows no echo.
All sound absorbed
Waves abandoned on a hillside
Footnoted by an unmarked cross.

Kouta for the Farmworker

Dirt-fouled hands, wrist deep in soil
nurture unborn seeds.
Nothing germinates without
bent-backed attention.

“Campesino en la huerta/Farmers in the garden,” by Rafael Zabaleta

El Campesino Orgulloso (The Proud Farmer)

Consider the humble campesino
Who watches over vines and buds with most paternal love
Not pausing for mere moments to enjoy the scent of flowers
That rim the field’s perimeter in technicolor memorial
Who knows if flowers, vines, and trees grow proudly?
But with the field hand’s tender touch they turn most ancient

Long forgotten in history, the farmer, his or her profession most ancient
While nobles drink deep draughts of wine and splurge on grapes the campesino
Labors without words, accepting pain of sunburned skin and harsh words proudly
Or so we tell ourselves for guilt repels true love
And why is there no holiday, no celebration, no polished stone memorial
For the soil whisperer who filled our tables, but now lies under flowers?

Perhaps the picker of grapes wishes for a world where opportunity flowers
Fed by sweat and blood so children may proudly
Build in their own image grand memorial
Where others stop and celebrate their love.
After hard-earned slumber, does this thought wake the campesino
Whose wrinkled skin makes him appear most ancient?

The sweaty throngs are worthy of permanent memorial
Or at least an obelisk as lasting as the principles of love
Which burn most bright for family in heart of campesino
The honor of labor a principle as ancient
As first societies hidden fathoms below a sea of yellow flowers
He chose to sacrifice, survive, and did it proudly

Beneath feudal lord’s coercion, he could have fallen, but plowed on proudly
Straight parallel fields a perennial memorial
The plows and tractors bring feast of love
But tools of agriculture have no meaning devoid of campesino
Whose hands play natural rhythms most ancient
Far longer ago even than the seminal first flowers

It took the rain but also human hands in fields most ancient
To grow the symbols of affection we call flowers
Signifying heart that gives of its eternal kindness proudly
Or remembers life now extinguished, marked by humble stone memorial
This we learn is origin of fruit, of plenty, of love
Nurtured for generations by constant campesino.

Rain flowers of celebration down in love
A fragrant living memorial, embraced and beheld proudly
Honoring campesino’s earthly spirit, most ancient.

“Pressing the Grapes Florentine Wine Cellar,” by John Singer Sargent

Wine Cave (2000 gallons)

Monastic walls of peasant-hewn grey stone
Stuffed from floor to ceiling
Giant barrels, burnished oak curved slightly in the middle
Girdled by silvery rings
Remind me of obese feudal lords
The universal windbags
Who stand or sit and sip, pontificating
About notes of oak, and buttery finish
Babel’s conversation does progress
On idle tales of full-bodied fruitiness.
I count two dozen barrels
Fifty thousand gallons, more or less
In my closed-eyed imagination
I can hear echoes, cries from fields of green
Collected memories’ long-perished past
Interred in stone
Eyes opened, I squint
Seeing twisted fingers, foreheads wrinkled by the sun
Serfs of modern vintage
Whose sweat and blood feed
Palates that pretend refinement,
Now tickled by a glass of cabernet
Blissfully enjoyed in bourgeois folly.
Revelers adjourn to drunken slumber.
I tell these tales the casks have held in secret.

“Un masque sonne le glas funèbre/A funeral mask tolls bell,” by Odilon Redon


What untapped wells
lie dormant here
beneath grassy knolls,
granite beaten down
by sun and wind?

Lives of tawny rippled muscles,
sassy black curls dancing
bones interred that cleaved Mohammed’s mountains.
Daring the elements,
they won before they lost

I walk past, steps hastened by fright
Allowing only fleeting thought —
Did one of you make footsteps here
Before I did?
Will I, too, be forgotten?

Mukund Gnanadesikan’s poetry and short stories have been published in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Ayaskala, The Bangalore Review, Calliope on the Web, The Cape Rock, Tuck Magazine, Junto Magazine, Meniscus Literary Journal, Blood and Thunder, Poets’ Choice, and Dream Noir, among others. His first novel, Errors of Omission, is due out in fall of 2020 from Adelaide Books. He lives in Napa, CA, where he practices psychiatry.

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