WHAT REMAINS IS GIVEN UP TO THE FIRE
We asked the woman to decide what do to with her stillborn.
We gave her a thoughtful peach folder containing several options.
She considered the hospital memorial garden and its anemic roses,
A casket no bigger than a shoebox buried beneath a Japanese maple.
She thought about the furnace receiving all the medical by-products:
Bloodied gauzes, yellow tummy-tuck fat, a rounded finger stump.
We realized each option told us a little something about the mother—
Whether romantic or utilitarian about death. We tried not to judge them.
Papa didn’t give us any options—offering himself to the incinerator.
August fumed in its cruelty until what remained was given up to the fire.
I thought his funeral was impersonal without the body displayed as evidence.
I pictured him hiding under a pew listening to his ex-wives weep like pigeons.
Until it was my duty to pour his body from the side of a bridge,
And the ashes stuck to my hands, my hair, flew into my open mouth.
I thought about the peach folder, the forms, the tasteful calligraphy of grief:
My uncle next to me, crying in that poignant way only men can cry.
—from Rattle #37, Summer 2012
Christeene Alcosiba: “I was seventeen years old when I first read Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ Since then, all time has been measured in coffee spoons, uneaten peaches, and several drafts of anxious poems about longing. I have never been able to fully recover from it.”