Author's Note: I wrote this poem two years ago in response to my mother's death and our inability to lay her to rest due to the pandemic. After three years, we finally made the trip to New England last month. I'm happy to say the Maine coast is just as I had imagined it.
A little something more than ashes. What? A sound? A syllable? A thread of light on the anniversary of her death, yahrzeit? A kaddish to stir up prayers of the dead? A temple full of mourners? The soft tut-tut when they notice a stark absence on my head? This isn't what she’d had in mind at all. She’d given instructions, clear and precise, re: details ‒ latitude, longitude, the size of the lighthouse. Was all her talk in vain if we should disregard her wishes, call a rabbi, do what she least wanted? Feign ignorance, one might say; or, she’s no longer here to make decisions for you. Mourning is the deed of the living. True. Touché, as she would say, her favorite word along with “intertwingled”‒ portmanteau of “intertwined” and “intermingled.” Herd mentality was not her way. She loved cottage cheese on a crusty slice of toast with Thousand Island dressing, or a roast turkey sandwich dripping Miracle Whip. Leftovers, leftovers, leftovers! she behooved. The gospel of her kitchen was, “Eat up!” and nothing edible ever went to waste if she could help it. The supermarket, its infinite aisles like pews, demarcated spiritual space. Her house of worship stood proudly in a parking lot, its vast smorgasbord of options a cruise ship for the soul, i.e. the appetite. Late in life she’d had a brief awakening to God ‒ though less potent than a bee-sting ‒ read Psalms of David, ‘listened’ to a voice she said spoke, replied; syncretic substrate deafening her with psychological noise. But ashes, ashes...we’d made great big plans to scatter her bright powder to the waves exactly as she’d always wished. Like thieves we’d steal up the New England coast intent on lessening our burden, in our hands our mother’s earthly dust ‒ unsettled, scant ‒ filling two undistinguished plastic urns the matter of the woman who bore us. What would be the use of making a fuss at this point? She left few friends and almost no family. May you and I take turns shouldering the guilt of this heavy ghost loss upon loss upon loss upon loss in ritual proper to the species until its final moment of release into the painted ether of her dreams where gull and guillemot and albatross feed on the tender mollusks, the Supremes belt out “Reflections” for eternity and every day is Double-Coupon Day. Here none of her defects are on display; only the rough-hewn waves, the antic cries of ospreys screeching praise, and charity of wind to coax her atoms to the skies.
Originally published in Juke Joint
©2022 Marc Alan Di Martino
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