Early one recent morning as I was wandering the internet, looking for something that mattered, I stumbled across a poem written twenty or thirty years ago by someone mourning the death of a reclusive writer.  The poem’s theme struck a chord at the time but, as sometimes happens, I failed to make note of the details.  I don’t know the author nor the title of the poem.  It wasn’t the words that moved me, but the image they painted.  Well, I guess that says it all; it was the words, indeed.

It was an image I have had in my mind since a somber visit to the Texas coast a few years ago. One year to the day after the death of my sister, a group of my family members and I drove to Galveston, Texas to celebrate her life by fulfilling her wishes.  We waded into the Gulf of Mexico.  We opened the crematorium’s heavy-duty plastic bag that served as a temporary urn containing my sister’s ashes, and waded into the water, dispersing them in the water. The air temperature was a cool 55 degrees, which felt a bit cooler, especially with the breeze, but the water was much warmer.  Tears flowed freely, though we didn’t want them to.  But we had no say in the matter.

That image, that memory, prompted me to write a poem about the experience just a few days ago. I read it last night during Wednesday Poetry Night at Maxine’s in Hot Springs, along with a couple of others.

As I considered the other poetry I heard last night, it occurred to me that, sometimes, we try to convince ourselves we can be more than we have the capacity to achieve. My poetry is good enough for me, but it doesn’t approach the quality and depth of some of the people who read their work last night. I have to accept that I dabble in poetry; other people put their hearts and souls into it.  I thought I did, and maybe I have, but I just don’t think it carries the same weight as the stuff I heard last night.

So, as I consider the ashes of my sister, the ashes we poured into the Gulf of Mexico, I think it’s reasonable for me to come to grips with the fact that my poetry may be substantial to me, but it has the weight of ashes compared to the work emerging from people with true talent.

Life is what it is. I may be investing my passion in the wrong places.  Certainly, I know I am in some circumstances.  Time to reassess and redirect, perhaps.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
This entry was posted in Just Thinking, Philosophy, Poetry. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Ashes

  1. robin andrea says:

    Thank you for posting this, John. I think it is beautiful. I love the line, “waves should have pounded the sand.” Yes. We scattered my father’s ashes in Monterey Bay. I like to think he is everywhere now where all the oceans meet and currents collide.

  2. Robin, here is the poem I wrote:

    Into Salt

    The water was gentle that February day, the waves
    subdued as if they knew we were coming and why.

    Salt in the air and in our eyes. Water splashing
    against the beach and running down the rivers on our faces.

    Wading, slowly, into the warm water,
    hating every step and cursing every breath untaken.

    Holding onto one another the way we
    no longer could hold onto her.

    Releasing the contents of a temporary plastic
    urn into the permanence of a sea of infinity.

    Impossibly hard, brutally final, an ending come too early
    in a world in which endings are so often too late.

    The gentleness of the water was unwelcome,
    waves should have pounded the sand,
    wind should have shrieked in rebellion.

    She had been someone who loved and
    was loved, someone who cared and was cared for.

    The final soul-crushing goodbye, breaking life into a million
    shards like brittle glass that cannot be made whole again.

    You just go on, remembering what melted into salt.

  3. robin andrea says:

    I’d love to read your poem, John.

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