Michele Leavitt, a poet and essayist, is also a high school dropout, hepatitis C survivor, and former trial attorney. Recent work can be found in Guernica, Catapult, Narratively, and North American Review. She’s the author of the memoir Walk Away.
is not the feathery ash
at the tip of a cigarette. What’s left
are slivers of bone poking
from countless white specks. A label
on a plastic bag, in a banker’s box,
in a metal closet in the hospital morgue.
Before the box, a scorching blaze.
Before that, diminutive flesh. Before that,
a few gauzy breaths outside
an intoxicated womb. No one comes for
the ashes, and the label turns
like a shy child toward the back
of the box, hiding the number
assigned by the hospital, the date
of death, the mother’s name.
The ashes settle toward fusion
like any memory that can’t be
scorched away. Where is the mother?
Caught in the vise
of her present tense,
caught like gravity, which never
turns from its task,
waiting for a gentle
hand to surface from the conflagration,
to rearrange her mistakes,
to sort her burnt parts, one from another.
“ When I received the ashes of my niece’s infant, it was the first time I’d seen human ashes up close and personal. They were different than the wood ashes I’d imagined, and I was surprised at how white they were, and how much they resembled crushed bone. ”