American Life in Poetry: The Ashes

(U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser is writing a series of columns that highlights poetry and its importance in everyday life. From time to time we’ll share the reprinted columns here, and provide you a chance to add your comments. I’m a bit behind in posting this, as it was actually last week’s selection, however I thought it was appropriate in light of our coverage of Hunter S. Thompson’s recent sendoff. This snapshot of a moment of remembrance is one we can likely all relate to, and the act of simultaneously grieving, celebrating, reminiscing and saying good-bye is a ritual that has been often chronicled in literature. Perhaps you have a favorite poem or story that touches on this same subject — or you’ve explored it in your own writing. Feel free to share them here as well as your thoughts on this selection.)

American Life in Poetry: Column 021

How many of us, alone at a grave or coming upon the site of some remembered event, find ourselves speaking to a friend or loved one who has died? In this poem by Karin Gottshall the speaker addresses someone’s ashes as she casts them from a bridge. I like the way the ashes take on new life as they merge with the wind.

The Ashes

You were carried here by hands
and now the wind has you, gritty
as incense, dark sparkles borne

in the shape of blowing,
this great atmospheric bloom,
spinning under the bridge and expanding-

shape of wind and its pattern
of shattering. Having sloughed off
the urn’s temporary shape,

there is another of you now-
tell me which to speak to:
the one you were, or are, the one who waited

in the ashes for this scattering, or the one
now added to the already haunted woods,
the woods that sigh and shift their leaves-

where your mystery billows, then breathes.

Karin Gottshall works at the Middlebury College library in Vermont. This poem first appeared in “Tar River Poetry”, Vol. 44, No. 1, Fall, 2004. Reprinted by permission of the author. Poem copyright © 2004 by Karin Gottshall. This weekly column is supported by The Poetry Foundation, The Library of Congress, and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. This column does not accept unsolicited poetry.

One Response

  1. I’m an egretI like the poem
    I’m an egret

    I like the poem about the egret by Jean L. Connor, which Ted Kooser features in his recent column. Also, the egret is the official bird of the University of North Florida where I went to college.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

What We're Up To ...

Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!