For Those Killed in Wars

I dreamed last night that there was a shrine half a city block in size. A thirty-foot bronze fence enclosed a mountain of human ashes and bits of broken possessions like cookware, children’s toys, and pieces of plastic whose function could not longer be identified. These were the unidentified remains of people killed in the wars, a gray heap of unknown but still honored human beings.

Outside the shrine, with its Chinese gate of wooden pillars and tiled roof, were worn buildings, traffic, people rushing about on their business. The view to the west was open, with a town of old buildings and fading paint, the same as many small towns—well-used, no fancy money, no boastful high-rises, no pretentious architecture. Beyond the hills, the afternoon sun was still powerful enough to light the streets in honeyed tones, but the mountain had already fallen into shadow.

No one was allowed inside the locked gates, but the ghost of my mother brought me there, put my feet into the sand of crushed bones and burnt flesh, and let the particles run through my bare fingers.

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