Placing the dead is seldom arbitrary.
The Marquis de Sade’s grave in the forest at Malmaison
was planted with acorns so that he might be consumed by
trees, but my wife desires a shady plot in rural Texas,
where no one will claim her. In old Christian
graveyards the unclean were buried at the gospel side for
sinners. When her best friend died, she and his former lover
split a bottle of Johnny Walker Black and listened to Puccini.
The Nuer of Sudan place deformed dead babies by the river,
returning them to their true fathers, the hippos. After the fog
crushed Stevie Ray’s helicopter, I played Texas Flood on the juke
box and quit my job. In China, bones channel feng shui, becoming
part of the active landscape. Though she wanted her ashes to drift
in the Pacific, my mother’s body lies in a national cemetery in
San Antonio. On the northwest coast of Canada, the Kwakiutl
left their dead to the ravens, and my father has proposed
on numerous occasions that we shove a hambone up his ass
and let the dogs drag him off. I do not believe we’ll follow his
suggestion. In old England, suicides were often interred at
crossroads, impaled, to impede their restless wandering spirits.
The Torajans sometimes keep bodies wrapped in layers of absorbent
cloth in their homes for years. I’d like my incinerated, pulverized
remains released in the jet stream, if only to escape economy class for
once. Jellyroll Morton’s grave is in Section N, Lot 347, #4, in the northwest
quadrant of Calvary Cemetery, but some villagers bury stillborn
near a dwelling’s outer wall. Hugh Hefner is rumored to have acquired
the spot next to Marilyn Monroe. Placing the dead is never arbitrary.
Originally published in Middle Gray in 2013, “Ritual” has just been reprinted in the anthology Heron Clan III.
For those who might be interested, a glimpse at the genesis of the poem is included in this interview conducted by Dariel Suarez, the editor of Middle Gray: http://www.themiddlegray.com/mgblog/2013/12/19/robert-okaji