I've Named These Ashes

by Yasmin Mariam Kloth

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A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
—Proverbs 17:22

Each year the bones of my ancestors
turn more brittle and gray.
I think how so many must be buried
in the shade of cedar trees. Others, in reeds
by the Nile. I imagine skeletons
walking waves in the desert.
I imagine walking bone bodies
a line beneath the sun.

My grandfather’s crypt is in Coptic Cairo.
There’s a bust of his face (or is it his grandfather’s face?)
at a door you do not enter.
Two decades have passed since I visited last.
My mother stood next to me
LATIF in sandstone letters
looking down on her.
She stared at her surname
as if she had never seen it before.
Her face turned red
and she turned away from me.

My mother was never buried.
Her ashes sit in a smooth wooden box
on a desk in my father’s apartment in Ohio.
My grandmother paces her world quietly
someplace else. She wrings her hands.
She cannot visit my mother
so she builds a shrine in the spare room
between the TV and the daybed. 

I visit my father and I forget
my mother is there. Once,
I had a terrible fight with my brother
in earshot of her ashes.
We broke wide the gulf
of our fragile family. 

LATIF in Arabic means gentle, kind.
Will I fail to know where I came from
if I let the ocean swallow more
of my country’s coastline?
Will I forget the names
of those who made me if I do not
write them down? 

It doesn’t matter.
We are all ash.
When we mix with rain and sand,
we go back to the place
we were born. 

Yasmin Mariam Kloth’s “I’ve Named These Ashes” appears in Flock 24.

Yasmin Miriam KlothYasmin Mariam Kloth writes creative nonfiction and poetry. Her writing scratches at love, loss, place, and space, with a focus on exploring her Middle Eastern heritage. Her work has appeared in Gravel, West Texas Literary Review, JuxtaProse, O:JA&L, Rockvale Review, and others. Yasmin lives in Cincinnati, OH with her husband and young daughter.