Ash Wednesday Already

By artlog via FlickrIrreverent to sweat the ashes off at the gym.
But I’m of the treadmilling world, not ready
for the wilderness, much less the tomb.
I want something besides sweat to do
with the remains on my forehead—
scatter them over Long Island Sound, maybe.
But they are a smudge,
lines so fat you can’t make out the sign
of the cross, a priest’s fingerpainting.

I wish it would rain hard,
and I could run out in it,
turn my face to it,
let my ash smudge
roll down like water
into the gutter,
the drain pipe,
the river and up
into cloud again.
But the forecast is a chance of a drizzle.
I need at least a scattered shower, better yet
a spate from a cloud brooding to break into
a storm severe enough to bend cars around trees,
wash my forehead white to the bone

Something that would make me turn
from the front-page story on the Congo
to its body on A12, to look hard
at the face of the woman
who couldn’t hold in her urine
after two weeks of rape by rebels.
But I don’t open to the insides of the paper.
I start a feature on the economy
driving middle-class families to food pantries.
(I note to self: donate to food bank, read up on Congo)

I turn the wheel before the exit to the gym
as my mind misreads the sign—
Port Raines in white on green,
because it sounds like Port Reye,
because I know Port Reye,
because Port Reye—
where I visited your mother
because you died
how long now?
four years? five?
today? five years ago today?
Your death day already?

I follow the sign to the Port Reye Library,
where you must have gone some Wednesday
afternoon you were out of sorts.
Where would you turn—
the sad aquarium in the children’s room?
the microfiche covers of Life magazine?
the sound archives of Mingus live?
the illustrated Wrinkle in Time?

I try to mourn again,
to cry ashes off
cry my face anew,
remember you

I turn the handles that open the stacks.
Did you like the Beats? (I never knew)
Ginsberg’s “Kaddish” for Naomi,
his mother gone without corsets and eyes

(Note to self: say a prayer, send a card
to your mother.)

And what to do about the clocks and bodies
that tired you out until you stopped
the ticks and turns I forget until
I turn to
black handkerchief washed clean by weeping
what a kaddish can do

Ashley Makar works with refugees in Connecticut. She does community outreach for IRIS--Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, in New Haven. She has an e-book of essays, You Were Strangers: Dispatches from Exile. Ashley has published essays in Tablet, The Birmingham News, The Struggle Continues (the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute weblog), Religion Dispatches, and The New Haven Register.