Poetica Magazine

Poetica Magazine

by Jessica de Koninck


The traditional salutation for mourners in Portuguese, my friend writes,

is Descanso. Not in Portuguese, rather for Jews of Portuguese descent,

who escaped to the Netherlands at the time of Ferdinand and Isabella,

the Inquisition spreading like a mutating virus. Then those Jews sailed

west to the Antilles. No place was safe.


Descanso, Ben explains, may my mother rest in peace. May I find peace

in memory. I search Descanso. In Spanish it means broken. The primary meaning,

fallen to pieces; secondary, rest. In Portuguese, the order is reversed.

Resting in pieces. How to find peace with the January ground frozen hard

and covered by a fine layer of snow as we toss shovels full of dirt that fall

and land like the sound of a timbrel, on the simple pine casket.


In Descanso I hear Encanto, the animated Disney movie my granddaughter

has watched at least five times this week, its music contagious. Encanto

means charm or enchantment in Spanish, I tell her, and cantar means to sing.

Canto, a song, a spell, an incantation.


But cansar means to tire out, to weary. My mother loved singing, but her body

had grown weary. A hospice music therapist came and sang to my mother

her favorite arias, the ones where the mezzo rarely find peace. Roused

to attention, my mother began smiling, moving her mouth as if to sing.

I am peaceful, and I am broken. I remember her smiling.