Inktober: 31 Days of Poems: Ash

I’m using daily prompts associated with Inktober (artists doing ink drawings) to spur poetry this month. The poems flow from the prompts, though it may not be obvious (at all); and sometimes the poems are revisions of earlier poems that came to mind when I mulled the prompt. If there’s a photo in the post, it was chosen after the poem was written. I’m “showing my work” by offering some of the words, phrases, associations that came to me for each prompt. The poems may or may not have anything to do with gardens, gardening, or “nature” as it’s commonly considered. To see all the poems (once they’re written), check the Inktober landing page.

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Today’s prompt: ASH

Some associations:  ashes to ashes/dust to dust, baseball bat, sackcloth & ashes, rise like a Phoenix from the ashes, dust, Ashes — the art piece at ICA Boston, cinders, embers, remains, ruins, volcanic ash, powder, fire, relics, debris, vestige, cremation

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NOTE: I’m doing something different with this prompt. “Ashes” is the name of an exhibit I witnessed at ICA Boston a couple of years ago, probably the most moving and memorable art I’ve experienced. It’s a 20-minute video and sound presentation by Steve McQueen (12 Years A Slave), projected onto two sides of a screen, with one half (in Super 8) showing “a blithe young fisherman named Ashes perched on the prow of his weathered orange boat, while the other [shot in 16 mm] reveals his eventual fate. Both sides play simultaneously on loop, and there’s no indication given to which should be seen first. … [The] single-channel soundtrack meshes diegetic noise and dialogue from both narratives to confuse the viewer’s sense of time and place.”

The viewer learns that “Ashes came across some drugs that did not belong to him, and was shot and killed for trying to sell them. But “Ashes” is not about the shock of the title character’s death; rather, it is most poignant in its gentle, careful handling of how he’s buried.” (quotes from “A Steve McQueen Video Ponders the Vulnerability of a Young Man’s Life,” by Alex Jen at Hyperallergic, 19 May 2017)  Here are a few stills from the video.

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Elegy for Ashes

Carefree, fooling around on a boat
riding waves, laughing and flirting with the camera,
his fluid body at ease with the ocean,
at home here, alive here.

Careless, perhaps, a chance find
the fate that catches him off-balance,
unaware of anything more precarious
than steadying on the edge of a swaying prow,
a slip only a dip into known waters, safe.

Careful, so careful, the digging, the crafted wooden frame,
poured concrete, rough cinder blocks, crusted metal pails,
white paint, dark hands, sandblasting, lettering,
all so simple, immediate, ordinary, painstaking,
two careworn gravediggers doing what they do every day
while goats traipse and graze.

Even now,
watching him dare himself on the wobbling boat as water laps
we hear the hammered nails, the scratched engraving,
heavy sounds of heavy work
bleeding through,
seeping from earth to sea and back.

©MMWms 2019

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25-year-old Ashes sitting on boat, from video ((c) Robby Muller, 2002)
Ashes’ feet on boat’s prow from video ((c) Robby Muller, 2002). He was shot and killed two months later.

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