His Ashes

The urn was heavy, small but so heavy,

like the time, weeks before he died,

when he needed to stand, I got my shoulder

under his armpit, my cheek against his

naked freckled warm back

while she held the urinal for him-he had

lost half his body weight

and yet he was so heavy we could hardly hold him up

while he got the fluid out crackling and

sputtering like a wet fire. The urn

had that six-foot heaviness, it began

to warm in my hands as I held it, under

the blue fir tree, stroking it.

The shovel got the last earth

out of the grave-it must have made that

kind of gritty iron noise when they

scraped his ashes out of the grate-

the others would be here any minute and I

wanted to open the urn as if then

I would finally know him. On the wet lawn,

under the cones cloaked in their rosin, I

worked at the top, it gave and slipped off and

there it was, the actual matter of his being:

small, speckled lumps of bone

like eggs; a discoloured curve of bone like a

fungus grown around a branch;

spotted pebbles-and the spots were in the channels of his marrow

where the live orbs of the molecules

swam as if by their own strong will

and in each cell the chromosomes

tensed and flashed, tore themselves

away from themselves, leaving their shining

duplicates. I looked at the jumble

of shards like a crushed paper-wasp hive:

was that a bone of his wrist, was that from the

elegant knee he bent, was that

his jaw, was that from his skull that at birth was

flexible yet-I looked at him,

bone and the ash it lay in, silvery

white as the shimmering coils of dust

the earth leaves behind it as it rolls, you can

hear its heavy roaring as it rolls away.

from The Father (Alfred Knopf, 1992/Jonathan Cape, 2009), © Sharon Olds 1992, 2009 used by permission of the author and the publishers

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