"The Worker"

"The Worker"

"The Worker"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
March 7 2006 6:45 AM

"The Worker"

Click here to listen to Sharon Olds read this poem.

Nothing had been burned with my mother, even the tiny, blue snowflakes of her cotton hospital gown the floor-nurse took back, and kept. The rows of tongues of flame inside the mortuary incinerator were given bone, flesh, blood, wedding ring and hair. Suddenly I'm glad I do not have that job—mother after mother after father after father, a child, baby, to scrape out of the firebox into the urethane urn. I always forget the worker, the one instead of me who picked that dewy, rigid corpse up, and slid it in the body-sack and zipped it to; the one who lifted it out of the bag and put it in its tray on the conveyor belt; the one who pushed the button to move her into the enclosure; the one who flipped the switch to fire the jets. For a moment, I almost see it, my mother's body made of a feeding frenzy of fire, and then the scraper scrapes her—and a few ashes of the one before, and a grain of the one before that, and the one before that— into the box, and the secretary labels it, and puts it in the ball-bearing file drawer, by her desk, and the little carton of my mom abides, the office calendar page of April is torn, May, June, July, August, out she rolls, I do my amateur teamster featherbedding, the minister does his work of magic respect, taking the heat of the eternal for the rest of us whose fingertips and nails break into the harsh, purplish, Molokai sand and convey a handful out over the rail and give her to the wind and sea, roughage for the fishes' work of seeding the deep, we give her to the hard-laboring moon, we give her leave, and permanent furlough.