Halfway to Vermont

By Owen McLeod

Featured Art: Clown Hair by Emily Rogers

I tell my wife
my old friend Tom
is in the car
right under my seat in fact
she says not funny
I say I’m not joking
then reach down
and fish around
until I produce
the small blue padded envelope
that contains
the portion of Tom’s ashes
his half-brother
mailed to me from Alabama
five months ago
I explain my plan
to scatter them
on the shore
of Lake Champlain
where we’re going
to spend a week
doing nothing
it’s fair to say my wife
who grew up in China
with beliefs and customs
about death
very different from mine
freaks out at this point
and asks that I get Tom
out of the car
the sooner the better please
I take the next exit and 
look for a halfway
decent spot
but it’s just a Sunoco
in the middle
of nowhere
we pull in
and while my wife
goes inside to pee 
I walk to the edge
of the parking lot
and pour Tom’s ashes
on a struggling patch of grass
which strikes me as not
altogether inappropriate
given that Tom
spent his entire adult life 
and unable to fulfill
his great promise 
as a poet
in the few moments
I have at the edge 
of the parking lot
I try to remember
the good poems
he wrote before
he couldn’t write anything
and I feel guilty
about cutting him off
years ago
but I just couldn’t
continue watching him
drink himself to death
and it grieves me
that I never truly thanked him
for introducing me
to poetry in the first place
but it’s time
to say goodbye
so I say goodbye
to the ashes in the grass
and walk back to the car
where my wife
greets me with a hug
and a bottle of cold water
and says yuàn tā ānxí may
he rest in peace
and then to the sky
above the Sunoco sign 
thank you
thank you
thank you

Owen McLeod is author of the poetry collections Dream Kitchen (UNT Press, 2019), winner of the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry, and Before After (Saturnalia Books, 2023). His poems appear in Copper NickelMissouri ReviewNew England ReviewPloughsharesThe Southern Review, and elsewhere. He teaches philosophy at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania.

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