We are here to spread her ashes,
the first cold day of fall
as shadows spill across the bay at sunset.
Six of us, in a boat while others
gather in small groups on the dock
beneath a sky streaked with pastels.
Here, we float her vessel
just west of the island, where
currents carry it toward the salt creeks,
sage green paper crusted
with Marsh Marigold, Rose
Mallow, wildflowers to seed
the space we once inhabited as kids.
Silent, we drift for a while,
and when the bay grows dark,
head home for the usual family gathering,
the familiar stories suddenly held dear.
And late, returning to the bay
we carry with us a dozen night lanterns,
those small hot air balloons we light,
waiting for the heat to build,
their thin paper walls as translucent
as her skin the last weeks of her life.
They sway and bobble along the beach
as though dancing to 50’s music
until one by one lift
into the dark, rising high
above the bay, light flickering,
growing smaller and smaller
in the expanding darkness:
her burial ground, reaching
from the shoals of this island
deep into the sky above.
I want to tell you the story
of our sad childhood so you know
the fear you felt was real,
but you’re sleeping, and your hands
are cold, so I tell you instead
the story of the nuns who came
each August to the shore, a dozen
or more, renting the yellow house
with the large, screened porch.
Remember? We were young
and up early, sneaking to the beach
where each morning we’d find them
clapping like children as they
fed gulls or played tag,
running through sand in black
stockings and black shoes,
their long habits puffed
by wind, their veils floppy.
We learned from their joy,
that it comes unbidden
in a moment of surprise,
like your giggles
that shake you from sleep,
awake now long enough
for me to say goodbye.
Cheryl Baldi is the author of The Shapelessness of Water. A former Bucks County Poet Laureate and graduate of the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she was a finalist for the Robert Frasier Award for Poetry and The Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award. A former teacher, free-lance editor, and co-facilitator for community based workshops exploring women’s lives through literature, she lives in Bucks County and along the coast in New Jersey.