The Five Faces of Death

George Kalamaras

—based on Aglaia Papa’s painting Cyprus Mothers


How many faces of death are there? Winter? Spring? Summer?


A crow flies into your belly one autumn afternoon.


Eight hours later you dream of your dead mother


buying you a leather hat. You can never have


too much protection, she says, handing the clerk several stiff bills.


These Cyprus Mothers cry out for the dead


mirrors they can no longer hang or look into. No longer


face their own faces, for inside them are the daughters


and sons they have lost. Embedded there like dust or light


morning sleep when they approach the engulfing edge


of knowing too much. Only a protest, they say. Only signs our poor


children held up in the streets. Even the donkeys of these


mothers cry out with terrifying animal sounds that seem to


arise from the depth of dry wells. A dry well is what is


in the heart, now, of these mothers. They have wept so long


even the weeping hurts. These five faces Aglaia Papa


has painted somehow become one. One large face


of communal doom. How could she have known


this depth of maternal sorrow? How many rats had crawled


into the hay loft of her art studio to instruct her


on the multiple ways of biting and eating, the multiple ways


of defecating death? A tobacco strike could never be


enough to send the living mothers into a burn of hurt


from which they could never emerge. Papa somehow


captures the dread of knowing our own faces can suddenly


change from joy to anguish. We dream a mother


coming to us one night as a crow. And the next morning


we find a dead sparrow on the patio chair. There are


ways of knowing only the dead know. Five ways they keep


            trying to tell. Five ways of weeping as we bring our-


selves into a mirror each morning hoping to see into and


through the other side of an internal cry we tell no one.


Headshot | George Kalamaras


GEORGE KALAMARAS is former Poet Laureate of Indiana (2014–2016). He is the author of twenty-two collections of poetry—thirteen full-length books and nine chapbooks—as well as a critical study on language theory. He is Professor Emeritus of English at Purdue University Fort Wayne, where he taught for thirty-two years. George and his wife, writer Mary Ann Cain, have nurtured beagles in their home for nearly thirty years, first Barney, then Bootsie, and now Blaisie. George, Mary Ann, and Blaisie divide their time between Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Livermore, Colorado, in the mountains north of Fort Collins.