It starts with a dead animal: whenever she finds one
when walking the dogs up in the hills,
Jane puts the carcass in a cage on the roof
in order to bring up the bone-curls and -fractals.
Otherwise she’d have to dig
slantwise through the manglement, it’s best
to leave that to the professionals, the sun
and the maggots, the distant star and the grub inside, it’s best
to put on some music. Best not to listen
for any decibels of little mandibles.
Such an old old problem, what to do with the meat,
you would think by now we could just go poof.
At the industrial park, the crematorium’s warehouse walls
are lined with sheetrock to give the illusion
they will last. Sofa in the viewing room, curtains
on the window on whose other side the human corpse
rides through unfinished space, a slow conveyor
to the oven’s mouth. Stay as long as you want but be
forewarned: grief will be interrupted when the curtain’s closed
while someone checks the progress of the flames.
Sometimes the Oglala left their dead in trees
to make it easier either (a): for the soul to revert to birdstate
or (b): for the wolves to be defeated. Women’s work,
painting the body with vermilion, wrapping it
in a buffalo skin, flesh-side out. Lastly
a bright red blanket renders the scene more picturesque
while the women lament wild and weird.
If he be a brave, nest with him a few buffalo heads
which time has rendered inoffensive; if he be a chief
slay his favorite pony and lay it underneath.
The body’s scaffold possesses such a stringent whiteness
you can easily feel aggrieved at how it’s defiled
by the slackening form.
Well, the bones may have the beauty, but the meat
the better story. As in: see how someone
cut off my left breast!
versus their sterile silence. When Hamlet asks the bones
if he should kill himself, they refuse to render an opinion,
a song that’s lured even children to sing
for five hundred years without minding what it means.
You cannot know when they are finished—no, you just call it
depending on the whiteness you hope to arrive at,
how much stain you’ll put up with
or whether you value these relics simply
for the majestic architecture of mammalian innerstructure
uncannily inputted by evolution’s overmaster,
how often you know you’ll look from your work to the still
some-percentage-flesh adhering to the bone, your eyes
shifting between it and the clock measuring its desiccation.
But first you have to find an old toothbrush
—or failing, demote one still in use—
to scrub off the gristle that clings to the cracks
and rubbery clods that hang by a thread
before boiling them down to a stink: half-cloying,
half-sweet, every drape in the house
forever infected, even far from the bone,
with the scent of the putrid distilled from the earth,
making your fibers all mortally fragrant
with the power and glory, forever, amen.
Back on the roof, the creatures march
in a synchronized procession—first blowflies and flesh flies,
then carrion beetles. The flies are so shiny
yet their young make you shiver,
waggling out of the meat as it’s eaten
by these grubs who are eaten by carrion beetles.
Then the Hymenoptera wasps lay their eggs in the beetles
and also in the larvae of some of the flies,
where they grow inside the meat of the grubs
who are themselves the food of the carrion beetles.
And why the bones, not the heart, since so much is made
of that bloody mitten? To last, it would have to float in a jar
full of poisonous murk that it casts its webs through.
And this is not the body of old anatomy books
whose drawings and colors, dotted lines, little numbers
corresponding to a column of names, all suggest
great logic and beauty, part of which must remain
even after the last calamity. But all this
would molder in wide open air, where only the bones can sing.
Well, them, and the teeth: the bones’ little knives, unsheathed.
Every heart sings a song that’s incomplete
said Plato, until another heart whispers back.
He forgot PS: the song might not be sweet.
Plus, hearts might be what this song likes to eat:
chomp chomp. Yum yum. Its teeth could be black
with rot and you might not want to hear their incomplete
singing even if it’s a song, you might not be so desperate,
maybe you find enough fulfillment in the back
catalogue of your own songs, however incomplete.
Or maybe you find completed songs too goddamned sweet.
The bones will stand next to books by philosophers
and books by poets. Because you might need relief
from all that thinking, might need a pelvis for its holes
to see the sky through. You are not so different
from a coyote or a cougar; maybe you’d have been one
if your mother wore another name. And what but meat
would a cougar read?—better empty the shelves,
fill them with bones. Because the books hold in
what the bones spell out: it won’t be long
before your beauty will have all the time in the world.