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What happens at cremation? we ask
the funeral director. Death unspectacular 

isn’t instant. The mathematician says
they’ve weighed the body before and after

still nothing both inspiring and provable
suddenly leaves when we die, material

nor energy. Though oxygen stops diffusing,
nerve cells lose the wherewithal to pump ions,

and brains stop doing whatever it is brains do… 
the physicist says every joule of heat

we ever carry remains—nothing destroyed.
In some cultures the dead float away, flaming

arrows shot at their bodies as in Norse
times, or rubbed with clarified butter

and, on wooden boats, lit. My son asks
why they burn her, the woman on the raft

in the Ganges, sunrise lighting saris,
brickwork and the late mother-woman.

So her spirit can fly to heaven
I answer, aware our version differs from hers. 

Rapidly consumed in the energy
around us, bright orange poppies,

blazing red kernels of heat, such burning heat—
what have we ever created but this?


Brother, I Could Pretend You Were Wolverine

                         And then it wasn’t a story, it was only an empty cage.
                                        —Larry Levis

What we buried in the family plot
turned to wet, tufted fur

gathering muscle at the sinewy edges
not slave to skin

but steel that would not give.
I could imagine us crossing

between chains Don’t you recognize my wolf-grey hair, my eyes
gone nettle white?

—though not too dull
to see you as you could have been—

Then it was only the bones of your knuckles
not your wrists

the slits
as easily closed as opened. 

             Most days I believed
your wounds could heal

like yellow flowers
mending a splintered cactus.  


A PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices Fellow, Jennifer Givhan is a 2015 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts in Poetry Fellowship, as well as the 2013 DASH Literary Journal Poetry Prize winner, an Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize finalist, and a 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize finalist for her collection Karaoke Night at the Asylum.  She will graduate from the MFA program at Warren Wilson College this January, and her work has appeared in over seventy literary journals and anthologies, including Best New Poets 2013Prairie SchoonerIndiana ReviewRattleThe Collagistcream city review, and The Columbia Review.