7) Imagine a world in which death was not a form of absence, but
heightened, excruciating presence—
“The dead are massed beneath the earth. They penetrate it, and bind it
together. They are motionless, overflowing with light: sometimes at night,
where the earth has been worn thin, you can see them—like lights in the
window of a distant house.”
(“And we are bound to them, the way branches are bound to a tree.”)
(8) Imagine the following ritual. When the dead man has been laid out for
three days, the local magician comes to his house and blows a tape-worm
in his ear. (“Months and months, I waited for someone to die, nursing the
worm, holding it in my mouth.”)
This worm would be a parasite of light: as it winds its way through the
dead man’s body, it turns his organs to undivided light, so that for five or
six days he is lit from within, like a window with the shade pulled down.
And then, gradually, he goes dark. When he is all dark, through and
through, the family buries him behind their house.
(9) Or—just after a man dies, his wife brings in a bowl of water. (“On the
day he died, I saw the old woman, dressed all in white, dipping her bowl
in the river, and pouring it out again—it was almost an hour before she
found the right water.”) The bowl is set out next to the body and
attended at all times by a mourner. When the water has all evaporated,
and the bowl is dry, the family buries it behind their house.
Toby Altman is this and that: a poet with some little publications and some little awards: the usual. Born, Chicago: 1988. Lives, Well. Mostly in Philadelphia. These poems are drawn from a longer series of prose poems, “Asides.”