I’ve seen the Kathmandu corpses, garlanded with marigolds, burned to a crisp, holy smoke sifting across the river, censing the air for the tourists. In Annapurna’s narrow lap this valley, chock full of bones, is too cramped for burials. Instead, the dead are loaded onto burn piles stacked with logs from the foothills, now naked and eroding, pillaged for ceremony, death gathering to itself more death up the slow gradient of necessity. Mourners chant. Mortality teaches our ears, eyes, noses as the little boats of skeletal ash and charcoal are launched, freed from the funeral ghats, to drift downstream.
Urged now to weigh the manner of my final dispersal, I’m not averse to incineration. But I confess this foolish comfort: to lie beside my husband in our grave—a double bed we chose together— the full, aged remnant of the body he loved, knowing heaven can pull together from earth or urn, from bones or ashes, whatever is needed for what’s next.
Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. Psalm 81:10 (KJV)
Don’t be afraid of your hunger. I gave it for your fullness, The cravings, the pinched gullet, the corrosive wants, all have come to serve you. Don’t be afraid of the pablum, the drivel in your diet, or the sharp cactus burrs when you swallow. Don’t be afraid even if you don’t know you are hungry.
If, as Karl Barth said, God may speak through a blossoming shrub or a dead dog, I reckon God may be found at rock festivals. At least that is my hope every spring as the Chicago winter finally eases its grip and I begin planning rock music outings.
The bag I drag is solid as earth, clods I couldn’t shake off roots reeking of rocks and blackness, the kind of dirt they’ll use to bury us. As in Iraq, where the body count climbed so fast mortuaries posted Help Wanted beside the highway.
And let me mention my own complicity with darkness, buying a jade jacket sewn by a hungry child in Singapore. And the way I say darkness, a skin tone not my own. Even the calibrations of a poem, tricky, the justice of lines, evil wrestling with good in the miniature Madison Square Garden of a page.
As I weed, I listen to the sweet cacophony of neighbor kids on scooters, the argument of work, its ache in my arms.
When the lawn bag rips, dandelions tumble out, eager to spread their seed. You know how gullible evil is, sure of itself, always believing the worst. Are dandelions weeds or flowers? Maybe I’ll tear the bag, send seeds flying, encourage a suspicious universe to bloom.
Danielle Snyderman, a geriatrician, says it isn’t possible to work successfully with an elderly patient without knowing about that person’s relationship with his or her spouse. This awareness led her to start collecting stories about the love lives of the couples she was working with. These stories are “packed with humor, history, wisdom, and grace. Who wouldn’t feel better after bearing witness to love that has weathered child-rearing, war, poverty, financial success, and physical decline?” Couples have difficulty addressing one question: “How do you anticipate a time without each other?” (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 14).