You might expect that a movie with the teasing title The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada would deal with issues of redemption and resurrection. The film does brush up against themes of spiritual rebirth at times, but it is primarily concerned with friendship and the decision to honor the sanctity of friendship even after death.
At the first cut the earth does not thank the blade. Is it rape then?—the bite of steel, its point incalculably harder than dirt, its mark the hiss of death, the metallic taste of sorrow. And what does the earth cry, its tangle of root a living shroud rent by force? Memory longs to preserve what has already grown. The furrow is wet with tears, brown heart exposed, underworld of worms and slugs prey to birds, dreamless of deep new roots, of shade: the palm tree of Deborah, towering crown of green.
The ravaging is not yet complete. Jeremiah’s voice rages against Yahweh’s violation, at first petulant and then violent in return. It has always been so. Sixty discs slice the remaining sod, merciless, efficient: vestiges of cover criss-crossed into oblivion. Blind stalks mourn the loss of the sun, overturned into darkness, food for the coming reign. There is a quiet loss, the peace of death— stillness in the wake of wrath.
The thunder god is always the god of heaven and of death. Rain and death both bring life, black earth signifying a bed, a womb for golden seeds dropped from the mouth of the god, for a cause not one’s own. Is there a more tender bliss than the sweet swelling, the burst seed? Tendril roots uncoil, the seedling unfurls— moon-pale shoots beneath green and gold. The seed takes possession, the violated earth sings, the rich strains reach heaven.
Classic romantic comedies follow this scenario: the hero and heroine begin as adversaries but are irresistibly drawn to each other; they overcome a series of obstacles and recognize that they belong together; their willingness to change—to discard the prejudices that kept them apart—denotes their growth as human beings and shows that they deserve each other.
Her house was a three year old’s drawing of a house—two windows on the second floor with two below to flank the door. On the porch a pair of supermarket tube and webbing chairs in case a guest or two dropped by plus one where she could lean way back, a coverlet across her knees when fall was in the air or she felt ill.
The shades she always kept exactly so, the ones above just low enough to hide her on her way to bed, the ones below up high to let some daylight in. Now that the house is empty as a drum, they’re every whichway like an old drunk’s stare, and somebody’s pinched the supermarket chairs.
Sweet Jesus, forgive me all the days I spotted her in one of them and slunk behind the trees across the street. A caller on her porch for all to see she would have rated with her trip to England on a plane, or winning first prize for her grapenut pie, or the day that she retired from the Inn and they gave her a purple orchid on a pin.
Or having some boy ask her to dance, or being voted president of her class, or some spring morning with her room all warm and sunlit waking up in Spencer Tracy’s arms.
“I have been even as a man that hath no strength, free among the dead . . . Shall thy loving-kindness be showed in the grave?” —Psalm 88
Some days I feel as old as father Abraham, doddering father of a teen-aged daughter who last week attended her first “real” concert, at the crowded Aragon Ballroom in Uptown. When will my own days feel real again, the frozen clock hands begin to turn again? When will this chemical burning in the veins stop, and hope, perhaps, be recompensed? I wear this long wool coat against the cold that hurts me, covered with two scarves, my face covered to avoid any feeling of cobwebs, with their every thread feeling like a tiny razor blade slicing the skin. There is no ounce of benignity in this feeling. Maybe that is why the winter mask, last week found at Target, most accurately resembles a terrorist accessory, all black- hooded with eye slits. Were I to wear it, I would appear on campus like an ISIS recruit, no doubt a proud servant in his mind, clouded by the violence of the mission and sentence he honors. O the necessary horrors, those airstrikes occurring in the body’s battleground, leveled at the cells. If I were to wear the black hood, guise of a hangman (not the one hanged), I fear that campus security would target me, bucolic space locked down in emergency protocol. That’s all I would be: self-terrorist, strapped with the various wires of my sickness.
Katrina Spade, founder of the Urban Death Project, plans to compost human remains with wood chips inside a three-story concrete core. She argues that this approach is even more ecologically sound than cremation, which creates greenhouse gases. Bob Fells, executive director of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, thinks treating human remains as a waste product is disrespectful. Spade is hoping to break ground for the composting facility in Seattle by 2022 (Slate, July 15).