The Ash Bringer

A grainy predawn dark, early Expressway traffic
bleeding arterial tail lights across gray water
and its blue heart. Under Lemon Hill,
grunts from Boathouse Row, woodshop clunks,
young men’s voices too loud for a day
exhaling into starless skies, bad boys
after keg night, hungover, push long sculls
into the water and slice its marcelled run,
a marbled peacock wake behind each stroke
and coxswain counting that muscled steadiness
past the Water Works, Spring Garden Street Bridge
then Girard Avenue Bridge, where on the bank
Eakins sketches Max Schmitt in a single scull,
his light like this, tinfoil blue, where the crews sweat off
last night’s lost time but won’t row too far north
to river canals, Manayunk Reach, its towpath,
mules and barges and anthracite from Point Carbon
to feed stoves and Bessemers in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh . . .
Downriver, behind the boats and finny tracks:
League Island, where cheats and pimply teens parked
and tricked fingers through nipple hairs, satiny tufts,
the shut-down Navy Yard, once staggering shore leave
for so many thousands dead, how many more since,
in the rivers, of the rivers, like the girl
at a bend near the Museum gazebo: she tips
a throe of ashes from a brassy urn,
kneeling, not pious, just there, slanting her head
as if to speak to the passing, do it right,
shrug fine ores into the river—it takes so long
to cast away so little left of kin or friend
to Schuylkill, Delaware, Chesapeake, Atlantic,
someone she knew, walked gardens with, and must have loved.

More Poems by W. S. Di Piero