Your dad and your dog are in the trunk of your car.
Dad always drove, in floppy hats with sunblock smeared thick on his skin.
Nutmeg was a warm weight beside you,
pressing wet-nosed against the headrest
where Dad could scratch that rabbit-soft spot behind her ears while her nails scrabbled at leather, wanting to know where you were going,
if it was tile-carpet-hardwood home or
She looked like a wolf in the woods,
sharp-eared and silver-furred.
He looked like he could live there with her.
Your dad was five foot eight and your dog weighed thirty-five pounds
and they fit in a cube of wood you can clutch in your hands,
corners digging sharp against your ribs.
You laugh as you carry them out of the car
because it stops you thinking about how the shape is all wrong—
how that cherry-red kayak should be strapped to the roof and the trunk should be stuffed full of cookware that catches the too-bright sun in your rearview mirror, threadbare towels spilling last year’s sand and crisp books that come home dog-eared and lake-wrinkled.
Not neatly zipped suitcases and two boxes,
one small and one smaller.
But the weight is right.
It feels like heart and brain and fur and beard and bone,
All tied off in a plastic bag.
You wonder where the soul is, if this is the body.
You want to ask if it’s in the ashes in the bag
or the air in the box or not in the box at all.
If it’s in the smell-memory of ozone and wet earth,
in the lake where Dad steered the canoe,
pointing out birds that left ripples where they vanished.
You imagined you were a loon every time you kicked up a sandy cloud and whooped as you broke the surface, chipped, slick mussels crammed in both hands.
Dad used to swim across that lake. He’d tie a balloon around his waist,
silver so it would flash in the sun,
a strange beacon for passing boats
and you’d watch from shore until it was a pin-prick in the distance.
Nutmeg took to the river,
like she remembered being a different sort of animal,
the kind that crawled out of the sea—
her leash and collar wound like cottonmouths on sun-baked rocks
while she swam close enough to see you
and dart mud-wet back to shore.
The ocean is choppy, boat pitching with the late-afternoon late-summer wind
and you worry about getting ash in your eyes, on your lips,
tangled in your hair.
You’ve never looked in the boxes before.
When you cut the ties off each bag
you understand that the weight was always in the wood.
The bone blows away in your palm and blooms, unfurling
in clouds that cut grey-green slivers through the black.
A seal lingers, quiet and still, where harbor-blue drops deeper, into midnight.
A piece of the body might filter through her whiskers,
or get churned and scattered by her flippers.
Cod could eat the bone and she could eat the cod
and they could be inside her.
The motor sputters as she vanishes
and all that’s left is a ripple, a shimmering trail in her wake—
But you catch something in the molten dark that looked back at you,
and into you,
that knows why you’re here and who they are and what came before
and what comes after.
Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.