The Dead

Joan Aleshire
In poems I read, "the dead" always appear
as collective noun: gray mass without feature,
to be feared or made fun of, and so to be
erased, as if we hadn't once loved or fought
with them, as if we won't end the same.

What was left of you sprawled--shapeless
mass of ash, such a dark gray--in the plastic bag
we came to bury, Pete cutting a neat square
in the turf old graveyard grass becomes--moss,
ferns, even violets blanketing the mounds--
next to your father's headstone, closer to him
in death than you'd wanted all your life to be.

Mother, brother, brothers-in-law, sisters,
nephews, nieces, and I who had known you 
best in faltering and urgencies, the slow
steady heat of your engine heart, the rank innocence
of your workman's sweat: we came with mason jars
and each took a last remnant of you, even in this
never "the dead," not the gray feathers
of wood-ash, more like sand we might collect
from a rare beach we visited once,
always yourself: this dense powder
you have come to.

From Litany of Thanks by Joan Aleshire. Copyright © 2003 by Joan Aleshire. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

Joan Aleshire