He husbanded her ash for years; when the wind blew, he’d place some,
as if it were pollen and he a reverse bee,
upon a plant or low-hanging tree, and wait, downwind,
for its caress.
He would feel himself then weeping
into her hands, though it would seem to others
(if anyone had seen) just wind in his eyes.

But he worried as he aged
that he was using the ash too fast, that it wouldn’t last him, or worse–
and this was worse–
that he’d been self-indulgent with his machinations, and that in his wish to hold on to her, he’d never let her rest, that he had wrested her from
the singular life of ash, one eddying release, the possibility
of well-spring–

So he took the ash to a lake she’d loved
and sat there with the box–he’d never been able to transfer her
to an urn, she hated the taste
of metal–
which held inside the tied plastic, and inside that, the ash,
just sat there for some time,

with no leaves that could blow, just lake, and ripples of lake,

until he opened the box, the plastic, dipping palms into the soft remains,

until, not even looking–late for a lakeside–he pulled off shirt and shorts, and rubbed the ash like some tribal warrior over his thighs and calves, his knees and the backs of his knees, arms and belly, chest and shoulders, neck and nape of neck, and
his face.

He did cry–for her, for himself, and for the ridiculousness of himself, standing there not a warrior, on even a beach that was embarrassed, and the tears made rivulets
in the tightness of drying ash;

and he looked down at his legs, his torso, at the hair that was flattened by the ash, and at the hair that sprouted through the ashen mats, trying to feel something other than
the crusted rim of his own skin

until, slowly, he walked into the water, which took him aback with its warmth–

It was water that still held the day, water that held him too now with the day,
water where grey unwound.


Prosish poem for Real Toads Open Platform.  I am also linking to dVerse Poets Pub, for Whimsygizmo’s prompt about blue (one suggestion: to write a sad poem.) Pic is mine.  All rights reserved.  

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27 Comments on “Ashen”

  1. Jim Says:

    I enjoyed the narrative, K. The ending is mine to imagine.
    I have him dispersing the ashes by slowly easing himself clean of her. Then he slowly leaves the water and his love there in the lake. The lake will now take care of the ashes, he will get along without, only memories now.
    Life goes on.
    BTW, we still have ashes of three pets, two dogs and a cat. It’s very final if they’re scattered. Like Humpty, reconstruction is rediculous.

  2. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    This is unbelievably powerful, Karin. I cannot remember when last I was so moved by a narrative. A person who has not held the remains of a loved one, and had to decide how, when, where to dispose of them cannot understand the weight of a handful of ashes.
    The final image of him clothing himself in ashes will remain with me a long time, perhaps forever.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much, Kerry. I was pleased with how this one came out. It started as an exercise crazily and I can’t even remember the prompt but just that I had meditated a little before starting to write — ha! Might be worth doing more often! K.

  3. whimsygizmo Says:

    This is, quite simply, STUNNING.
    “He husbanded her ash for years” (holy cow)
    and this:
    “as if it were pollen and he a reverse bee”
    and that “water where grey unwound.”

    Goodness. I am struck silent, really. I have often told my husband I want my ashes spread at Lake Tahoe (discretely, over time, so as not to trouble him with the legalities of it), so I am particularly struck by this. Such peace here, and your sense of language…just WOW.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Thanks so much. Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place–I’ve not been there for many many many years–but hope they haven’t hurt it too much! Sounds like not. Thanks again for the prompt and your kind words and visit. k.

      • We have a joint NV/CA Task Force assigned to guarding her clarity. Now, all boats have to be inspected before entering the water. This week (today, I think) begins the annual hooha–all the politicos, including the POTUS are there discussing what needs to be done.

  4. This is so touching. The line “and sat there with the box” brought back memories of my dad asking me, “Do you want to see your mom?” and then handing me just such a box that he had kept in the cupboard above my head in his trailer. The next summer he scattered those ashes in the Firehole River at Yellowstone because that’s what she wanted.

  5. bkmackenzie Says:

    Love ever part of this, I can feel so fully the love and pain of this human for someone he loved….that love is so present in the love of another or an animal…so hard to let go to give back the ashes from which we or they came…so well done…thank you for sharing…bkm

  6. Karin, to begin with, I was so happy to see your name tacked on to Mr. Linky.

    This poem is a masterpiece. You dragged me in to the oh-so-strong emotion of the moment, of the experiences. Profound grief.

  7. Waltermarks Says:

    It’s fascinating, Manic. I didn’t realize at first which one of the two was in the box. But then as you went on, it was plain. I like how he took her everywhere and in the end she became part of him again. Very good, thanks

  8. Grace Says:

    Love the story, with its emotional undercurrents. The ending of course, moved me powerfully. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  9. Polly Says:

    Wonderful, poignant, poem k — love the photo too 😄

  10. Marian Says:

    Wow, Karin, this is so… words fail me. It hits on a gut level, wow. Inspired and inspiring.

  11. ladynyo Says:

    Incredibly moving poem, K. I think it is one of your best. Do you know the tanka by Izumi Shikibu on the cremation of her daughter?

    Why did you vanish
    into empty sky?
    Even the fragile snow,
    when it falls,
    falls in this world.

    When I read that poem, I choke up. Your poem did the same.


  12. Rosemary Nissen-Wade Says:

    Wow! You made him and his situation utterly real and convincing – one of those fictions which conveys deep truth. The ending is left ambiguous, of course; I rather like the interpretation that he let the water take him too, so they finally ended together. Yet, the warmth of the water might suggest otherwise. Either way, the closing words are perfect.

    • Rosemary Nissen-Wade Says:

      Oh, and the details are so beautifully placed, such as her dislike of the taste of metal. And, as one who loved an elderly man (my late husband) my heart twisted with tenderness at your picture of this warrior soul with the aged body.True pathos!

  13. hedgewitch Says:

    ‘..on even a beach that was embarrassed..’ Karin this is so perfect–and the sadness so human, seems as in this line to make even nature human, pregnant with her own and our griefs, yet strong enough to dissolve them in a birth as something new…just beautiful writing, narrative that sings and makes music, pure poetry that tells our tale.

  14. Jamie Dedes Says:

    Such a beautiful story and beautifully written, k. I’m so glad you made sure I didn’t miss it. Thank you. This is one that will stay with me. May we use it in the upcoming August issue of the Zine. It deserves as wide an audience as we can give it. It touches the very marrow of the bone.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Sure. Thank you. K.

      • Jamie Dedes Says:

        Thank you! It’s perfect as a poem, but I can also see it fleshed out into a short story, not that it needs to be.

      • ManicDdaily Says:

        Thanks so much. I have thought of doing a little book of very short (and some longer) stories. I have to get myself motivated! I have done a lot about this length as writing exercises, and then some that were aimed towards a novel, but I don’t think I have the energy to do the whole novel! Anyway, thanks for your kindness. k.

  15. This is incredibly strong Karin, the emotion and the story… somehow the ceremony of taking farewell with all the little details is immensely touching. The detail of the box rather than the urn just to mention one…

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