The Dead

Joan Aleshire

 
In poems I read, "the dead" always appear
as collective noun: gray mass without feature,
to be feared or made fun of, and so to be
erased, as if we hadn't once loved or fought
with them, as if we won't end the same.
What was left of you sprawled--shapeless
mass of ash, such a dark gray--in the plastic bag
we came to bury, Pete cutting a neat square
in the turf old graveyard grass becomes--moss,
ferns, even violets blanketing the mounds--
next to your father's headstone, closer to him
in death than you'd wanted all your life to be.
Mother, brother, brothers-in-law, sisters,
nephews, nieces, and I who had known you
best in faltering and urgencies, the slow
steady heat of your engine heart, the rank innocence
of your workman's sweat: we came with mason jars
and each took a last remnant of you, even in this
never "the dead," not the gray feathers
of wood-ash, more like sand we might collect
from a rare beach we visited once,
always yourself: this dense powder
you have come to.
 
From Litany of Thanks by Joan Aleshire. Copyright © 2003 by Joan Aleshire. Reprinted by permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.

Further Reading

Poems About Tragedy and Grief
"My True Love Hath My Heart and I Have His"
by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge
Adonais, 49-52, [Go thou to Rome]
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Hamlet, Act III, Scene I [To be, or not to be]
by William Shakespeare
Against Elegies
by Marilyn Hacker
Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100
by Martín Espada
Arise, Go Down
by Li-Young Lee
Assault to Abjury
by Raymond McDaniel
Before
by Carl Adamshick
Breaking Across Us Now
by Katie Ford
Curtains
by Ruth Stone
Day of Grief
by Gerald Stern
Dear Lonely Animal,
by Oni Buchanan
December, 1919
by Claude McKay
Easter 1916
by W. B. Yeats
Eulogy
by Kevin Young
Facing It
by Yusef Komunyakaa
Fairbanks Under the Solstice
by John Haines
here rests
by Lucille Clifton
Hum
by Ann Lauterbach
I Can Afford Neither the Rain
by Holly Iglesias
I Found Her Out There
by Thomas Hardy
I measure every Grief I meet (561)
by Emily Dickinson
I Pack Her Suitcase with Sticks, Light the Tinder, and Shut the Lid
by Rob Schlegel
Imagine
by Kamilah Aisha Moon
In Louisiana
by Albert Bigelow Paine
Lycidas
by John Milton
Memorial Day for the War Dead
by Yehuda Amichai
On His Deceased Wife
by John Milton
Ozymandias
by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Pretty Polly
by Jane Springer
Quiet Mourning
by Laura Moriarty
Requiescat
by Matthew Arnold
Richard Cory
by Edwin Arlington Robinson
Rose Aylmer
by Walter Savage Landor
September 1, 1939
by W. H. Auden
Song ["When I am dead, my dearest"]
by Christina Rossetti
Stillbirth
by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
Surprised By Joy
by William Wordsworth
That This
by Susan Howe
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Hour and What Is Dead
by Li-Young Lee
The Not Tale (Funeral)
by Caroline Bergvall
The Second Coming
by W. B. Yeats
The Stolen Child
by W. B. Yeats
The Widow's Lament in Springtime
by William Carlos Williams
The Words Under the Words
by Naomi Shihab Nye
Tigers
by Melissa Ginsburg
To W.C.W. M.D.
by Alfred Kreymborg