Ash by Sharan Strange

By Sharan Strange

Advent by means of Sonia Sanchez Winner of the 2000 Barnard New lady Poets Prize

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How exacting and faithless love was, how impartial in its going. . She curses this wound of old hurt, betrayal of the past revisited. Each reminder of her loss floods the synapses 41 with disappointment and a new pattern of discontent hums in her. Her thoughts are bewildered, bitter. She despises those who sing so sweetly, so shrilly of facile love. She dismisses any god that would bid her be happy, especially now when so little matters. She will go on this way for a while yet. She will go on each day cursing fate, which robbed her of true joy, defying the solace of faith or death, her heart renewed by anger, that boy—against all belief—keeping her alive.

Cross-eyed, hypnotic, they threatened to merge, become Cyclopean. Myopic, I copied them. The chalkboard glimmered miles away, undecipherable, a blur. Somehow the boy next to me could conjure its contents in dutifully shaped squiggles and lines. In precise imitation, I repeated, made his eyes my own, sought windows into penmanship and spelling. On his page those jumbled, swimming white letters were transformed into black ones that sat apart, still enough to see. And the o’s, those Siamese twins anchored by consonants on both sides, seemed to compose the most perfect sign— round, open, unending, unfolding to mirror itself, the way sight offers its version of the world.

He holds our mother, shattered, but dignified, the way we’d hoped she’d be. Her black suit and hat are armor. Tears move down her face like wax. My aunts, svelte, New Yorkish, taste a private, refined sorrow. My sisters cling to each other. They are on the verge of this world, seeing her gone. We all are: family, friends, neighbors, church. The choir wails over their hymnals as the soloist’s strident notes hover. ’’ I clutch a book of poems, turn to the one written for her, and read, over and over, each word.

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