As I said in my hello card, I feel like Alice's rabbit, doomed to be perpetually late again to play croquet with the Queen, so to speak. As a peace offering to my good friend, Juan Cartan, the goodly mayor of our fair burg, Archipelagoville, I offer the following poem. Since The Body Bestiary is finished, this poem, and others to follow in other issues, are from two other manuscripts I've been working on the past few years (I still feel a need to be the court poem jester to this land). The one below is actually a short prose piece (but poetic nontheless, I hope!). Enjoy, good friends.
Their ship sinking its cat feet-like landing pads in a church yard's sea of graves, the aliens collapsed unopened upon arriving, like junk mail left on a kitchen table. They were glad that the inhabitants here, the dead, left them alone after their long flight. They took such courtesy as a sign of wisdom.
One day, their exhaustion evaporated, the aliens gathered around one of the dead whose coffin had collapsed and whose bones had tumbled out, piling into a sink hole. Her bones stuck out every which way, like the disjointed arms and legs, the bric-a-brac of a broken, wooden lounge chair, the kind with canvas bottoms that always tear. Worms had embroidered her body in a beautiful necklace, the slime from their bodies glistening like pearls, and the aliens saw this as a sign of great respect for the dead woman, such as one might give to a tribal elder.
Finally, she said something. Something like "crack." Something like "creakle." In their glistening, quiet rings, the worms shifted slightly. The aliens understood this as a cry of love. Then, one of her ribs flaked into dust with a slight choughing sound, a little puff of chalky dust, and it was a discourse on the properties of time and lust.
The aliens hugged harder to one another after that. They decided that the dead were a much more advanced species than their own. Compared to us, the walking slaves, the "dead tenders," as the aliens mostly, and derisively, called us, we who wore no necklaces of worms, the tender dead seemed a much more interesting race of being. And that is how a housewife, a mother of four, who died in Delaware, Ohio, in 1914, became one of the great philosophers in the western part of our universe.
Aliens from hundreds of other worlds came to study with her, to lie still and learn in the palace of her sullen patience. And when the shuffling, sloughing chalk of her sighing bones no longer spoke to them, they thought that that was wisdom, too. For she needed rest; they all did, and a long sleep was coming. It was all about filling in the cracks that their lives had made, you see. All about filling in the cracks. . . .
But take an old row boat, you say, one with a staved in bottom, its paint peeled off, its oarlocks rusted, the kind that's left abandoned on a lake shore or on a shallow bay, the kind that looks like, well, like the bleached bones of the dead. "Don't oar thwarts crack like old bones?", you cynically ask. Didn't the oars, for example, become wise men and women to the aliens, too?
No, because the other parts of their bodies were missing, and the aliens saw them as bandits who had been eaten by dogs. Their flesh picked clean and only their chest cavities and an occasional arm left behind, these bandits were understood as an underclass of being to whom nobody wanted to listen, like the darkening doors, the silent eaves, of an old, collapsing barn.