What We Carry

by Dorianne Laux

He tells me his mother carries his father's ashes
on the front seat in a cardboard box, exactly
where she placed them after the funeral.
Her explanation: she hasn't decided
where they should be scattered.
It's been three years.
I imagine her driving home from the store,
a sack of groceries jostling next to the box
smell of lemons, breakfast rolls,
the radio tuned to the news.
He says he never liked his father,
but made peace with him before he died.
That he carries what he can
and discards the rest.
We are sitting in a cafe.
Because I don't love him, I love
to watch him watch the women walk by
in their sheer summer skirts.
From where I sit I can see them approach,
then study his face as he watches them go.
We are friends. We are both lonely.
I never tell him about my father
so he doesn't know that when I think of his -
blue ashes in a cardboard box- I think
of my own, alive in a room
somewhere in Oregon, a woman
helping his worn body into bed, the same body
that crushed my sister's childhood, mine.
Maybe this wife kisses him
goodnight, tells him she loves him,
actually means it. This close to the end,
if he asked forgiveness, what could I say?
If I were handed my father's ashes,
what would I do with them?
What body of water would be fit
for his scattering? What ground?
It's best when I think least. I listen
to my friend's story without judgement
or surprise, taking it in as he takes in
the women, without question, simply a given,
as unexceptional as conversation between friends,
the laughter and at each end
the relative comfort of silence.

What We Carry

Last updated December 19, 2022