Remains
The relatives, giddy with abandon,
tell how they mixed ashes,
a father’s with a mother’s, saved
for that occasion, then
sifted them from their hands into
the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

I hear of it often now: the old ways
of my farming ancestors, the body
going into the earth whole,
put aside for ash
into wind.

Don’t worry,
I console my own. I’ll find a way
to scatter you
even under the earth.
The planet is teeming with
neighborly help.
Sixteenth Anniversary

for Raymond Carver and for Chris Morgenroth, Quileute Nation

August 2, 2004

You died early and in summer.

Today, observing the anniversary
alone in a cabin at La Push,
I wandered down to the gray-shingled
schoolhouse at the edge of the sea.
A Quileute carver came out of a low shed.
He held classes in there, he said. Six
students at a time. He taught me
how to say “I’m going home”
in Quileute by holding my tongue in
one side of my cheek,
letting the sounds slur past it, air
from the far cheek
a kind of bellows.

I felt an entirely other
spirit enter my body. It
made a shiver rise up in me
and I said so. The carver
nodded and smiled. He
said he taught carving
while speaking Quileute.
I imagined that affected
the outcome, for the syllables
compelled a breath in me
I’d never experienced before.

He showed me a rattle
in the shape of a killer whale
he’d been carving. The tail
had split off, but he said he
could glue it back. He let me
shake it while he sang
a rowing song they used
when whaling. My whole arm
disappeared into the song;
the small stones inside
the whale kept pelting
the universe, the sound
raying out into the past
and the future at once,
never leaving the moment.

He told me his Quileute name,
which he said didn’t mean
anything except those syllables.
Just a name. But I knew he
preferred it to any other. “I’m going
home,” I said, the best I could
in his language, when
it was time to walk on
down the beach. Fog
was rolling in so the rocks
offshore began to look
conspiratorial. He offered
his hand to shake. Our
agreement, what was it?
Wordless. Like what
the fog says when it
swallows up an ocean.
He swallowed me up
and I swallowed him up.
And we felt good about it.

You died early and in summer.

Before heading to the cemetery
I made them leave the lid up
while I ran out to the garden
and picked one more bouquet
of sweet peas to fan onto your
chest, remembering how you
beamed when I placed them
on your writing desk in
the mornings. You’d draw
the scent in deeply,
then I’d kiss you on the brow,
go out, and quietly close
the door.

We survive on ritual, on
sweet peas in August, letting
the scent carry us, so at last the door
swings open and we’re both
on the same side of it
for a while.

If you were here we’d
sit outside, accompanying
the roar of waves
as they mingle with the low notes
of the buoy bell’s plaintive warning,
like some child blowing
against the cold edge of a metal pipe.
I’d tell you how the Quileute
were transformed from wolves
into people, though I’m unsure
if they liked the change. I’m
not the same myself, since
their language came into me.
I see things differently.
With a wolf gazing out.
I can’t help my changes any more
than you could yours. Our life apart
has outstripped the mute kaleidoscope
of the hydrangea blossom
and its seven changes.
I’m looking for
the moon now. We’ll have
something new
to say to each other.
With Setouchi-San In Kyoto

for Hiromi
for Setouchi-san

We are like two sisters separated at birth.
We giggle with delight in each other’s presence.
After a while we turn to talk
of love so perfected, when the husband dies
it isolates. But I’ve gone on nonetheless
to love again. Setouchi-san
explains the plight of widows
in Japan whose families bury them
alive, for they cannot begin anew.

The tape recorder is on. Our words
are like distant rain. One cannot mourn
forever even when one mourns
forever. The heart finds a chink
in the dark. I give her my late love
as example, as permission.
If one widow brightens,
a cosmos ignites.

Setouchi-san’s belief in love
is my passport. We lock
little fingers, sealing a promise
that next time she’ll come to me.
We know the odds
are against it. But even vows
that can’t be enacted are important.
The fervent wish spires
the moment. After long illness, easy
to think we may never see
each other again.
But fervency says otherwise,
says: this side, or that.