from Burial, Claire Donato

from Burial,
Claire Donato



Check into the morgue with a bright yellow suitcase, a bag of dry rice, and a digital camera. Check into the morgue wearing wild alpaca: drafts of air ring out in one faint call. Check into the morgue stale from thinking. Think, ‘If TV drones out life, then life must be dead already,’ and, ‘If life is dead already, shouldn’t death already know?’ Together with frustration, grief induced by someone else’s body’s death produces sorrow. In two days—that is, in one multiplied by two twenty-four- hour intervals of time—Father’s casket will be buried in a grave far away from the sprawling façade of the city. To this effect, interior concerns are obsolete. One hears a lever’s spring release: gears rotate outward in a counterclockwise motion. The casket’s weight becomes heavy, then the casket descends, plummets into the ground, and falls through the earth at a speed that mirrors the speed of a lift, a pulley on its axis. The speed is steady; the casket is heavy—what, you may ask, if the mechanism fails? It is widely held that fail, a verb, causes matter to break down—think, ‘lotus,’ think, ‘bridle,’ think deeply, in silence—meditat—from the Latin meditari, from a base meaning ‘to measure’: to ascertain the size of something using an instrument’s units. And thus one must bury the dead with the dead’s favorite objects, just as one fills a suitcase until it is full to the brim, brimming with objects. Once filled with pebbles, songbooks, rings and little notes, the casket resembles the suitcase, its bright yellow form. It adjusts to the earth, to the earth’s rapid currents, and the rhythm of the currents causes objects to transform into sand. The sand overflows—geysers up from the casket—and forms a beach whereupon a group of funeral-goers stands. Look into the sand; trace an image. A flower, a perfect circle lined with petals, represents the deceased. When one looks into it, does one see the deceased? Or does one see a ghost—the deceased with its eyes, lips, and cheeks out of order? Bear in mind that reflection is in order: constellations form across the beach, and the trumpetfish and cuttlefish all pick at the skeleton’s bones, still contained in the casket. The bones are ivory; a whale’s ivory, tusk tusk. In an expression of boredom, one funeral-goer yawns, which causes another to yawn. Soon, the entire populace is yawning, unable to recognize the weight of the ghost, the deceased. The perfect circle lined with petals remains in the sand, and the sky is still blue, clear and visible. The sand expands across the beach in one clean, sweeping motion. Life is the body of death.

Repeat the expression: Life is the body of death. ‘Morgue,’ borrowed from the French, is a mortuary: a hard and insensitive building where dead bodies are kept, where mourners gather following death. But from what does a morgue borrow its form? To whom does it owe a debt? Say ‘morgue.’ The word is a trap. It wreaks havoc upon the brain, the mind and language. And a body rests across a table, concealed by tissue wrap. Its head is severed: its brain, a gumball, rolls. A coin is inserted; the silver knob, spun; and the gumball is released, glides freely down a chute until it rests in the palm of your hand. Thus the brain is chewed; a gumball is chewed. Images arrive, open and flash, and the mind’s eye cannot rest itself atop the image or its contours. Rest closes the hand’s clammy palm; following autopsy, the head is stitched shut. And what does it mean to laugh at this horrible sight? Incited when the body is in shock, laughter draws emphasis away from the eye’s fixture on the lesion. No, a brain is not a gumball; nor is a head a toy to be opened and stuffed. Shock, which dons the guise of laughter, pollutes the body, is cacophonous. Disassociation hugs the mind, and it is impossible to call attention to the morgue without describing its scenery. Its carpet is baroque. Beneath it rests a colony of dirigible ants that, regardless of the season, steers together. During the rainy season, the ants steer together, wander through corridors in search of sugar, syrup, honey. In summer, a tidal wave overturns the beach; one finds oneself lost in loops: designs that are brightly colored, however colorless: loop loop. One cannot get lost in carpet without being thrown for a loop, a vortex, a swirling eddy, and so many things to call to attention: the antique mantle, painted white; the countertop, marble, cool to the touch; hardwood banisters that loop and climb the staircase, then spiral down from the brain’s never-ending collection of rocks. And think—a collection of rocks under waves is a symbol of thought, ever circular, which loops until emotion undulates, crescendos through the body until it reaches climax, at which point it becomes infected, rots. In its irrational display, emotion rots, and ‘Father, dear Father, sometimes I’m drawn to the grand hotel’; sometimes the morgue blackens, and its carpet blackens, and coffee stirred with milk is so lightly colored, ‘I cannot drink it.’ To drink would only aggravate emotion, and every time the hands are placed around a cup, coffee is consumed, causing the brain’s waves to accelerate. And thus the brain accelerates, the heart accelerates, the legs, eyes and mind all accelerate in their various stages of existence; which is to say, the bouquet of flowers dries up. The fish is dry too, though its skin is intact. Its skin may yield to the touch, but won’t spring back: only forward, the direction in which the mind must eventually move. Move forward, the mind must, so that the legs, the eyes, and the heart may all move forward too; otherwise, the heart is a chestnut: a hard, brown nut that is impossible to crack. And thus a person looks into a mirror, a surface in a building where the boughs move to and fro in jeopardy. To bring the chestnut back to speed, add a little fire to the gasoline. Fire is liquid; gasoline is bright blue. To terminate the brain’s accelerated waves, the body is hung upside-down, whereupon the body becomes dizzy and throws up. As expected, the body throws up, the coffee is thrown up, and a forest is exposed: a beach, a graveyard whereupon the group of funeral-goers stands. Still, to stand the true exposure of an image, part the ferns and split away the fronds—think, ‘persons,’ think, ‘ashes,’ think, ‘further’—and further and further and further, away, dear Father, an answer forms . . .