He told us: throw his ashes “backabents,”
and we nodded, just as if we’d understood.
But then the cancer spread, as every synapse went,
and along with them our way to find that wood.
Did he mean “back of Bent’s”? Was this Bent
a man on whose land he’d trespassed,
like Peter Rabbit past McGregor’s fence?
Could zigzag genealogy help us find the rest?
Or was “backabents” a nickname the colliers’ sons
all gave to some secret glade they shared,
free from the coal dust that coated their lungs,
with wars and blood pacts enacted there?
“Backabents.” Are we sure he didn’t make it up?
He tricked his shrivelled tulips back to bloom,
held baby dolls and car brochures on his lap,
whistled sweet solos, and yelled. His makeshift tomb
brims with contradiction—how could a puny box
of wood hold him, a man capricious as a goat?
For he raged, sang, ironed pleats in his slacks,
and made succulent stew dumplings. Now he is grit
and ash—no more Tim’s coffee twice a day,
no more buoyant bass solos in choirs’ anthems.
There’s nothing left of him to feel dismay
we never found the place of his enchantment,
“backabents.” He might have known those woods.
We couldn’t mark the spot, grew gaunt with guilt.
But even had we found the place and done it, could
we really bring the old man peace by pitching silt?