My Sister And I Decide To Surreptitiously Scatter Our Mother’s Ashes In The Hudson River

by Christine Potter
The Waters
First Place, December 2021
Judged by Terence Culleton

She was supposed to be planted in my yard: a tree.
A kind woman undertaker sold us the bamboo urn
that would dissolve under its root ball. It would

break down, she explained. Break down is what
my mother never did. She liked bamboo, though—
had bamboo shades on the sun porch windows

before any other moms on our block, even when her
own mother tried to convince us Japanese people
could see through them and it was all a plot. That’s

just ridiculous, Mom said, and it was and I think of it
whenever I pass her ashes in the bamboo urn beside
our turntable and records. She’d like the music but

she loved the Hudson, where it is not exactly legal
to scatter her ashes. She seldom spoke of my
father after he died. Or her parents. But the River,

the long, curvy horn solo of it, the constant hustle
of its two-way tides—all colors, all—that was her
kiss from God each day. Even on rainy four o’clocks

when it all looked like dull, wet fur and the lights
on the Tappan Zee Bridge where just beginning
to blur the mist. I’d have to go home then, try not

to get caught in the evening rush. Mom hated
that, hated goodbye. I’m sure she never wanted
to rest in peace. She didn’t like to rest much at all.

She was a commuter: midtown and back every
day. Like the Hudson. She got away with backing
into a cop car, backed down my fifth grade principal

when I was wrongly accused of plagiarism. My
mother is not a handful of branches straining for
the sun. She’s a three hundred mile long party,

people dancing all night on boats, silvery train
cars bound for Chicago. She needs to be what she
loved to see: The River raising its glass to the sky.

Walt Whitman would have loved this wide and embracing poem, the way it brings about a true confluence of elements, from the tidal flow of the voice, to the imagery accruing around the river itself, to the mother the poem celebrates, her spirit far too expansive to be buried in a bamboo urn under a tree somewhere. The chattiness of the voice is deceptive, seemingly desultory, rambling, even, but instinct with a canny awareness of the significance of every element it treats of. The overall effect is pleasingly discursive and accessible, loose-tongued, even. At the same time, the stanzas are tightly crafted and the whole piece, as it turns out, knows exactly where it’s going. Just as the mother’s ashes will enter into the river’s timeless flow, both mother and daughter are incorporated metaphorically into the flow of time itself as embodied in place. --Terence Culleton