The Ash Sermon by Vajra Chandrasekera

The funeral mumblers’ queue, when you are its object: tired nothings mixed with strange new intimacies.



—at least they weren’t the slow dead


—surely it’s best without warning


—they must have done something to deserve it

maybe in another life



And (I want to argue) maybe my dead died quick for a material reason.
Maybe they went up like a forest fire from dry tinder in their heartwood:
a thin artery wall easily blasted by that lightning stroke,
a brain alight and bleeding out,
then invisible crematorium fire
—I remember my grandmothers in pyres before death’s mechanization;
so I imagine red fireflies in the rising smoke—
and finally, ash and bone for the river
to rest in the long slow silt of the sea.
Should I worry about the dryness of my insides,
its susceptibility to a dropped match?
I’m unnerved enough to quit a habit.
Two packs a day is too much fire in my hands, I’ll put it out.
And more assurances:

—heartwood is always dead, like the past

we are only alive in our surfaces



But my throat’s still dry from not smoking.
My throat’s still tight because I keep my dead there
and tug at my collarbone to make room when I inhale.
I’m named for the lightning
like they knew we’d die like that

Contributor Notes

Vajra Chandrasekera is a writer from Colombo, Sri Lanka. His work has appeared in Black Warrior Review and West Branch, among others. He’s @_vajra on Twitter and can be found writing at