Friday, 21 November 2014

The Book of the Unclaimed Dead

The bones are stacked in boxes to be ground up
And mixed with the rest of the body’s ashes.
The workers at the crematorium use long poles
To push the bodies into the furnace, and a book is kept.
What jolts one are the infants and the still-born:

Permit: Feb 17, 2011
Smith, Kimberly.
B/G [baby girl]

Their ashes are placed in paper bags then filed in a metal drawer,
Like a library card catalog, under fluorescent lighting.
A long, inharmonious squeak to open it.
Some relatives are only interested in the certificate.
One worker warns, from the shores of the Styx,
“Just keep in touch, you don’t have to forgive.”

The man who keeps the book says he feels it is a service,
Something akin to love. He’s past retirement but loves his job.
He says his son will claim his ashes.
That’s important, that word, to be claimed.

Sometimes the usual bookkeeper goes on vacation
And another person has to record the names.
At least six names to number and spell out every day.

The book starts in 1896. That book, the oldest one, is very thin.
As if death had later hit a boon, an industrial surge
In the heavens, calling more souls to the fill its stations.

The books are kept in a church-like room,
But the bones in the boxes form only accidental crosses.
The body is simply wrapped in a white sheet
That will not survive the holy imprint of a face.

Workers heave the white figures into the furnace.
The 2011’s are set to be buried in a mass grave.
All those tiny packages and boxes, three-lined addresses,
Bound up manuscripts, tracked but unclaimed.

Alejandro Escudé

Alejandro Escudé is the winner of the 2013 Sacramento Poetry Center Award. His first collection, "My Earthbound Eye," is now available on Amazon and at .