Ash by James Graham

At the grave there is no poetry in me.
The man in the black suit hands me a little box.
Her name is on it. She is ash.

No longer a dead woman with closed eyes
and a cold hand I could still hold.
They place the corpse in the retort.
The burning takes two hours.
All organs and soft tissue vaporise
and are expelled into the air.
The calcined bones are pulverised.
This is the dry narrative that fills my head
instead of poetry. I hold the little box
with her name on it, and put it in the earth.
Later, much later, I begin
ham-fistedly to cram this grief
into a slow-marching metre,
but grief is not in the verse
any more than time is in the clock.
I try to find a metaphor
that is more than a mere trinket:
She was a mile-deep mine.
Seam below seam of priceless ore.
Of kindness: of patient listening
to anxious friends, who went away
assured. Of beauty: fierce dislike
of tawdriness; a gift for making
a sad room, or an old song, lovely.
Of insight: a witty understanding

of the rare wisdom and common folly
of famous men. Of short-lived anger
and spontaneous reconcilement.

These did not age. These skipped
and tumbled like a six-year-old, even as
the mechanisms of the body failed.
I must conjure poems. Poetry
does not work miracles, yet sometimes
makes a good pretence of it
and memory and vision may yet recall
from the chimney-smoke and the dry ash
shards that will merge at last into a ghost
whose voice I can believe I hear

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