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Spreading Ashes

David Brooks

Sunday mornings during the winter, the ashes are emptied from the furnace, and the contents spread over various parts of the yard. Most of it ends up beneath the apple tree. The falling fruit, those that are left behind and decompose, make the soil acidic. If the soil becomes too acidic, the grass gives way to moss. Moss you can live with, cordy apples are a different matter.


A Chinese sage in the 13th century wrote, “Yin is vital essence, Yang is qi, or spirit. At death, the qi floats away, the essence sinks back into the ground.” I think about this while loading the furnace with wood.


The mechanics of this is simple enough. Some of the nutrients that made one tree grow do not go up in smoke with the wood. Chief among them is potassium, which, according to a gardening text, makes fruit “plump and juicy.” Life is nothing but little transactions that, in turn, nourish something else. I think about this sometimes when eating foods known to be high in potassium.  


This little ritual takes very little time. While working at it I think about the trees that have burned to make this ash. Most of them are oak, which saddens me a little, since the sight of a tall oak is one of the great good things in this world. The floors of my home are oak, too. As a consequence of this chore, I have resolved to plant at least a couple of oak trees.  


The logistics of how this will work out remains unclear. Things like where and when the trees will be planted are nebulous in my mind. I’d like to be certain they could grow to maturity, but realise too, I have little control over that. Few outcomes have the same tight grain as our desires.

I’m not much for monuments or markers or anything of that sort. Maybe by the trees, there should be a small plaque:


           Here are the oaks Mr. Brooks owes this world.

           He planted them as thanks for keeping his ass warm 

           and providing a nice floor he frequently avoided mopping.


Maybe not as plump and juicy as a proper elegy ought to be, but if it stops someone with a chainsaw, that would be enough.

David Brooks lives in a small town in central Pennsylvania in the United States.  He is working on a manuscript of prose poems called Inspector of Clouds.

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