Ashes

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I found a grave beside the river.

The dog worried at a fork in the trail and turned to question, a branching we usually avoid that leads to a rise undercut by the current, a path obscured by a fallen tree. Mercy jumped the log. I followed her up the trail to the outcropping over the water.

Two branches lashed together forming a rough cross were staked in the ground, a family photograph attached below wilting wildflowers and weeds. Man, woman, boy, girl, posed in some department store studio trying to smile. I called the dog in. Two plastic boxes rested on the narrow end of the tree jutting over the river, lids ajar, white labels on each box “Organ Donor.” There was more, but I didn’t read it. I took hold of Mercy’s collar. Down below us on the river rock under shallow water, white silt sunk and unstirring, ash and bone.

We walked back along the road. My hat felt too tight. Mercy fell in step beside me instead of straining at the leash. I watched her as we walked away. For a quarter mile, more, we saw no one. Fog licked at our heels.

Lines we recite to ourselves walking and waking, stepping between borderlands, the bardo, hoping to find the necessary incantation.

“Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a grave man.”¬†

Beloved Mercutio, you are the true tragedy come from those stupid star-crossed lovers.

The notes from the violin are always leaving.”

I didn’t write that line, Phil did. He said it was after a Rilke poem, so long ago I don’t remember which, how nothing evaporates, only expands into eternity.

After my wisdom teeth were removed, Phil and Tom came over with quarts of malt liquor hoping I’d share my painkillers. I didn’t want any Colt 45, but gave them each some codeine. When the beer was gone, Phil heated a stove burner to high. He rubbed two butter knives over the stove coil until they were glowing red and then pressed chunks of hash between the blades to raise plumes of blue smoke.

In the morning, after I’d thrown out the poets and gone to bed, I found the blackened knives crossed on the counter in a scattering of ashes.

Father’s Day

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Our old green 1954 Ford Tudor sedan sat squat in the driveway. My parents bought it new from a west coast bootleg dealer before I was born. Most Saturdays when I was young, my mother and older sister dressed up to drive downtown in the Triumph and browse department store racks. They ate lunch in the restaurant on the third floor of the Bon Marche, and returned with shopping bags flaunting tissue paper. Dad loaded my younger brother and me into the old green Ford, a shotgun or a rifle, and we drove out of town. Dad joked: Henry VIII was a Tudor; Joan of Arc was a wonder. Barney always came along, our fox-red Labrador, even if, sometimes, he rode in the trunk.

Saturdays I learned to scramble along reeds and brambles bordering the river, pry out  gray stones impressed in the bank to plunk into the current, how to keep moving when the viscous mud fronting the lake sucked to the ankles of my black rubber boots. I studied how to ease through these places, to watch and be still, when to wait, like any wild thing. I learned to trust what the dog told me.

–Excerpt from “Birds the Color of Water”

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Happy Father’s Day Dad.