The Ashes by Jeff Friedman

We poured the ashes into the garden and said a prayer, a single bee flying from the roses. When we returned a day later, the flowers and plants had died, so we scooped the ashes into a container and walked down to the river where we kneeled and emptied them slowly, but instead of drifting away, they floated back to us. Again, we gathered them, but this time we spread them carefully at the base of an oak, where they lay in the shade. “This is good,” we said, nodding. As the sun shone in our faces, the leaves began to wilt and fall. The birds flew out, calling angrily for us to take back our ashes. “You can’t leave them here,” they said. “This is our tree.” So we gathered them again and took them to an open space in the cemetery. With our hands, we dug a small hole and buried the ashes, tamping down the grass and dirt. We placed a stone over the grave. As we began to walk away, we thought we heard a voice. When we turned, the stone was gone, and the grass over the small grave had turned brown. Once more, we gathered the ashes. At home, we built a fire in the fireplace and tossed them in. The bits of bone turned bright white for a moment before the fire went out.

Jeff Friedman is the author of seven poetry books and one collection of Floating Tales. He has received numerous awards, including a National Endowment Literature Translation Fellowship in 2016 and two individual Artist Grants from New Hampshire Arts Council.

Photo by Natalie Parham


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