Directions After Death

J. Motoki


Bury my ashes at sundown, under a crescent moon. Mix the gray swirl of bone fertilizer with rich, black earth, raise a cairn made of clay, and plant a sapling there. Something strong and resistant—oak, cedar, yew. I want to see your shadow hover over my mound in the light of the moon. I want to see you struggle with the shovel; use your full weight on the blade to drive it like a pogo stick into the earth. Use the back of your hand to wipe away sweat, leaving a smear of me across your forehead. Your sweat and blood drip into the dirt. There I’ll flourish. There I’ll grow. In time, they say, you will forget. You won’t forget. Although you try—you marry again. Kids. They don’t know about me, about my burial. They don’t know you hear my voice on a windy day, my branches tapping like bony fingers at windows when you’re lying next to your wife. How I laugh wildly while storms lash me with rain and things ripped from clotheslines, stripping leaves and sloughing off pieces of bark from my trunk. Or, on days you tell your family you’re running errands, how you lie between my roots, looking up at the dapple of sunlight through my branches, delighting in the cool of my shade, the fan of my leaves. As you grow older, they press you to purchase a family plot and look for headstones. At night, you see me more frequently outside your window, swaying and beckoning, with the moonlight in my many reaching arms, faces in the whorls of my trunk. In the end, you choose me. Plant your ashes next to mine under the light of a curved-nail moon, by someone hired in secret while your casket is filled with stones. I will wait patiently for you to match my height—we will grow side by side, rising majestic to the sky, and live forever.



J. Motoki graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from the University of California Santa Barbara. She is a nomadic librarian who writes in the stacks, snubs patrons, and whispers uncomfortable things from the shadows. You can read more of her work at