…on my sleep it is still raining
ash, flakes falling like memory…
‘Clear Brightness’ Boey Kim Cheng
On the first clear day, we set off
for the crematorium. I never knew
how she remembered which niche
housed her husband’s ashes, or what
she felt when faced with the blank oval
intended for her likeness when it was time.
The monk in his saffron robes lowered his head,
chanting, sweat beaded on his shaved pate.
No incense this time, no Taoist priest
with his flimsy sword. Just us: grandmother,
mother, granddaughter, and a hired man.
The mantra ended. Veined marble was no match
for stake and mallet. Blow after blow –
so much marble dust. I retrieved the glazed
photograph of my grandfather in his bespectacled,
benign years. My mother cleared aside
what was left of the plaque. Grandmother
reached into the cavity. I can’t recall the shape
and colour of the urn. Somehow, we were in
an open boat: women, girl, and boatman.
We picked out fragments of bone and released them
into the watery expanse. They fluttered out of sight
so rapidly. Then we upturned the urn and ashes
floated in the wake of our rowing. Did this mean
his spirit was now free? I clutched his photo so hard
it cut my palm. I stood up, crouched down low,
and lobbed it like a pebble. It skipped once, twice,
three times, then sank deep below the surface.