Thursday, May 29, 2014

Death and Sex, Tigers and Tightrope Walkers

The first dead person I saw was my grandmother in her open coffin when I was twenty-five years old. That doesn't count the shadow of a dead person I might have seen when I was sixteen years old, the flash of blonde hair through the windshield, the eyes, before our cars were irretrievably smashed together. Like I said, I'm not sure that I really saw this or imagined it, afterward, as I recovered. That is another story. I walked up to my grandmother's coffin holding my father's hand tightly. I've never seen a dead person, I said to him, right before we reached his mother and bent over to kiss her cold cheek. I know he wouldn't have said it then, but at some point afterward my father said, How could you never have seen a dead person? I probably saw scores of dead people before I was half your age! That photo above is some dead relative of mine. The little girl, perched on the stool, is my aunt, the woman behind her my grandmother.Perhaps that is my great-grandfather. Evidently, posing with your dead relatives was a common thing in southern Italian culture. And my father apparently posed in much the same way as my aunt, many times during his childhood. They were accustomed to death.

When I show this photo to people, they peer at it and wonder if it's real. Death. We don't like to think about it very often, we do our damn best to avoid it, and when it comes we're shocked, shocked. Sex and death. We're shocked by both. And we certainly don't write about it until we do.

I am an animal today, pacing my cage or circling the tightrope walker above me. She doesn't see me, doesn't remember how she shed her tutu, plunged from the wire, naked, and wriggled into this skin. How do I get back? Where is the Master of Ceremonies? Sometimes we need the proverbial provocation -- the stick, the prod, a crack of the whip, the leap, a roar, talons unsheathed, the naked body devoured or devouring the beast.


  1. I didn't have those words to describe it, but I have been feeling that too.

  2. What a bautiful post even if the subject is somewhat sombre. I have never seen a dead person, either relative or strange, in my life. I had two bereavements very close to each other, a couple of years and I made the decision not to see my two dead relatives. I don't know why, maybe it was fear, maybe it was the desire to remember them as two, living, gorgeous (in the broadest sense of the word) beings.

    I can sympathise with your feelings of pacing up and down that cage. Been there myself. Ray La Montagne has just come on Radio Paradise. That usually does the trick for me.

    Greetings from London.

  3. Speechless. In an awestruck way.

  4. That this feeling is not constant is the miracle. That and your writing. xo

  5. Tori Amos sings, "Somewhere someone must know the ending". Thank you for giving living words to this feeling.

  6. I have seen a few dead folks and I'll just say this- when people are dead, they are dead. It's sort of good to be reminded of this which can perhaps fuel more of our remembering to live while we can.
    You sure are a good writer. Sometimes I just want to grab you, hold you at arm's length, look you in the eye and say, "DO YOU KNOW WHAT A GOOD WRITER YOU ARE?"
    So consider that done.

  7. Americans in particular have a very avoidance-based relationship with death. (And due to the increased Americanization of the rest of the planet, other cultures are going the same route.) What an amazing photo!



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