from ANC062: Maps of a Hollowed World
The Undertaker's Vision of Burial as an Act of Luthiery
Each of us has our own
approach to lay the dead’s right
distal phalanges into the mass
graves some call our mausoleum,
others our necropolis. The first of us
arranged the bones
as if they sought the Earth
they came from. But everything moves:
each undertaker given the single bone
we keep from the dead before we
reuse the body as we must.
Some engraved each life in dates
the Earth gave us, some in time
as we mark it now, out of reach
of a homeland we’ve let rest
except for light, for the sound
waves space cannot bring us
directly. I cataloged them all:
each undertaker’s method. One
arranged by date, others by cause
of death or cause that directed
the life that held the bone within.
I have begun to shape
an instrument: the bones
not harp pins nor the pegs of violins,
but something to tune the pitch
the ship must make when we pass
our final way-point. Who will hear
this instrument keen out,
tell of a world that drowns
us in our past? We push ourselves
forward, this barrow testament
to each step forward, to a river
we can choose to drown
the stories of a past
we are still crafting.
Father’s ships, come to land: take my
hand, take my middle.
Ships sailing in:
I swear I’ll never be
his violin, his harp.
I’ll be no man’s wife.
stood upon a stone, and
you couldn’t see her.
You couldn’t see
her fingers, her middle.
She swam, a mermaid, a swan.
the first tune.
he courted her.
She threw in
gold and pearls, land:
what may not be
so great, so rare.
sank. He played
her sister dear
the treble string,
with glove and ring,
with grief and spite:
you couldn’t see
maiden for evermore.
She swam to
our father’s ships,
the fair hand
loved above all things.
Phrases in the right column are from Versions A and B of “The Twa Sisters,” English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Helen Child Sargent and George Lyman Kittredge, eds.