On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood
We couldn’t find my father’s ashes
during the flood of 2013
and thought they had been swept away. Or maybe
one of the volunteers, there only to do good, saw the jar
that held them covered with silt and threw it out,
as it went with so many things people cared for
in the buried treasure of their homes
manual typewriters, diplomas under glass.
After the river left our house, two of my wife’s friends
took apart our piano, which was waterlogged
and could not be saved.
And the piano, being demolished, made a concert
from the jugular grief of crowed wood, the broken memory of glue
and the squeal of screws no longer holding fast.
It ended with the crash of the great harp
onto a crib of concrete, a zoo in panic,
every note the piano knew climaxed at once,
every animal howling
as the river rose in their cages.
At the news of my father’s ashes lost to the water,
my neighbours winced like something wild
had eaten a pet they’d all fed from their hands.
But a friend from Poland thought it was hilarious,
and so did I – we both come from a long line of cannon fodder.
Dad would’ve laughed, too. I’d kept his ashes
because nothing I’d thought to do with them was right. He used to say,
If you wait, things will solve themselves –
the trick is knowing when to wait.
I was reading Robert Hass’s elegy
for his younger brother with Robert’s mind caught up
imagining a funeral
in which his brother’s body was burned on a boat in the river,
so first the fire, and then the air, and then, finally,
the river took the body – as if downstream
was another word for heaven.
We found the jar
in a box of books and a remote-controlled car
taken to the kitchen
when everyone grabbed everything above the waterline;
it had never been touched by the river.
And now it sits on a shelf in my living room,
my father’s ashes not taken by the flood
that I will not give to the air
until I have learned all he has to teach me
with the last part of the earth that was him.
from On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016), Richard Harrison 2016, used by permission of the author and the publisher