Ritual

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Ritual

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” was reprinted in the anthology Heron Clan IIIand is included in The Circumference of Other, my offering in IDES: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks. It also appeared here in July 2015 – the poem that refuses to die…

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

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48 thoughts on “Ritual

  1. I know I will come back and reread this more slowly later, as my own death has been on my mind lately, but I have difficulty writing about the end. Maybe writing about afterwards is a good place to start. I was so sad when Stevie Ray Vaughan died. It seemed an avoidable accident. Did someone say, no, don’t take off, let’s wait?

    Regarding your interview, it resonated with me about your dad being army. I was a navy brat and how you describe that ‘otherness’ is just how I felt, and still feel much of the time, even though I have lived here awhile.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Having scuba dived in the Niagara River hundreds of times, I never got anywhere near Niagara Falls (of course!). My children are all in agreement that my ashes will be spread on the river from a boat. I’ll go over the Falls, if it’s the last thing I do!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As soon as I read about the Tibetan sky burial, I knew that’s the way I’d want my matter redistributed. But it’s not likely to happen. I’d need to find someone willing to chop my remains up into vulture-sized pieces on top of a mountain. I’ve got the mountain top here — Afton Mountain’s got an old abandoned hotel, plenty of parking and open space, and the vultures come with the neighborhood. But I think there are legal issues with the idea.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s a little bit of a lot here in more ways than one, if that makes any sense. It’s beautifully layered Robert. From Stevie Ray to dragged away by dogs to consumption by sky and trees. Just lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. How appropos for October! I like reading out loud to the cats (they like iy too) and was picking out Halloween themed poems to read earlier today. This will go on the list most definitely. I always wanted a Viking fueral, Load me in the boat with all my things, set it alight and shove it out to sea. Not a lkely scenario in the modern era.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Another fantastic piece from you. Your dad sounds like a riot. I have told my kids that I want to be mummified so I can spend time in both of their (eventual) homes, but honestly, being turned into mulch sounds like the best thing to me. That way I can get into the water table and REALLY start messing things up.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a gripping read. The reality of the poem hits hard because you pack in a ton of literal fact and detail that is not often seen in poetry, yet it works beautifully. Hats off. I’ve just subscribed! Looking forward to your next posts.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed this and the interview immensely, and how did I never hear about Auden’s notion of the purpose of poetry being “to disenchant and disintoxicate”? I think I’ll be discussing this with a certain Taoist fairy I know…

    Liked by 1 person

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