Near his death Chuang Tzu’s disciples asked
why he chose tree burial in the ancient style
instead of a dignified grave. “Why,” he said,
“do you favor worms to birds?” And so
they built a platform in a giant bo tree,
prepared a tissue-thin muslin shroud,
and when he died they fed him to the birds.
In the Hope for Resurrection Cemetery
the master stone carvers and the rich
commemorate their beloved dead
by black stone angels with drooping wings
and shrouded faces or by crowds
of fat cherubs rising heavenward
as willows weep on slate for the city poor.
The old couple mingled ashes on their lawn.
She warned us, “Watch for the wind.
I don’t want you to brush me off your shoes.”
Now, bone ash and bits of bone, they join,
laid in a yin-yang sign on terminal moraine
sinking in turf, touching and not, in one
pattern enduring through the next ice age.
Our ashes will be scattered in our lake,
where settled in the muck they may ascend
the ladder of natural hunger, plankton
to minnows to rainbow trout that lure
our voracious melodious loons
who in late fall will carry us through the skies
at ninety miles an hour to open water.
This poem originally ran in the August 18, 2011, issue of the magazine.