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.