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The Math of Ashes

Juan Pablo Mobili


Despedirse, “to say goodbye”


Your ashes will weigh less than your skeleton

bones don’t blow in the wind like ashes do

they won’t float on the river or the ocean

but only sink and scare the fish.


My father stipulated his body should be burned,

then my mother told my brother she would be next,

Dying is a distinct kind of mathematics,


the heart also runs numbers:

the size of losses,

the lightness the body can attain through fire,

the distance to the edge facing the ocean

where the ashes will be scattered.


The fact is, souls, deep as they are, insist

on the simplicity of an abacus,

adding legacy and subtracting bodies,

calculating how long we say goodbye

before the water carries the ashes away.


I’m grateful for the dilapidated pier’s patience

with my mother walking to despedirse of my father,

to the waves that later reunited our parents,

and to the salt solicitous enough to negotiate


a truce with the law of gravity and help my father,

stay a little longer so we could say our words,

be grieving sons, begin to cry at equal intervals

with the precision of new orphans.

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