HOW TO KEEP HER
Some Japanese send their dead to the mountains
where they can be spoken to, they keep a house altar
as interpreter, a place for conversation, to ask advice,
or lay out troubles. Painted bowls brim with rice
as compensation. My mother’s ashes are capped,
stored in a porcelain urn inside a plastic box
that’s sealed, tight, against investigation.
My brother and I want to take some out, to keep
our own stash, but it’s illegal to parcel out your mother.
Only the mortician can scoop her, not family. Perhaps
we are too close to touch, who knows which body part
might smudge beneath the fingertips. So intimate
to separate her pieces. The tulips near her picture
begin their forward lean. They have opened wide
in the warm room, one she only sat in once, edging
ever closer to the fire where she pulled at the swollen joints
of her fingers. Even that day, as we spoke, we continued
to misunderstand. Today I mailed her tea towels
to someone else’s mother, some with birds stitched on them,
their colors the deep green of hills when you see them from far away.
—from Rattle #33, Summer 2010
Devika Brandt: “The death of my mother was a brutal poem, one that I write again and again as I try to make sense of that experience. I write my poems to honor our tenuous and fragile hold on life.”