Lesson

by Donna Hilbert

A portion of ashes we buried,
the portion remaining to be scattered
sits on a shelf
in my office, the container swathed
in a flannel bag, like the bag
protecting your tuxedo shoes.
How handsome you were in formal clothes!
Strangers often asked if you were someone.
Should they ask for your autograph?
The irreducible things that make up a person—
ashes, bits of tooth and bone—
transform from one noun
into another.
Before your death, Dear heart
I didn’t know
that physics and grammar
are the same sad subject:
the transformation of matter,
transforming what matters.

Excerpted from Transforming Matter, Pearl Editions, 2000