Good Grief

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Dark Star
By Michael Petry


Dark Star

Why does winter come to mind, when one speaks of death?

Winter’s ground is full of seeds, which shoot on spring’s approach; but death’s ground is barren. Winter’s trees are pocked with buds, which leaf with sap and sun; but death’s trees are withered. Winter’s lake seems frozen over, but beneath its surface fish still swim; but death’s lake is ice, frozen to the core.

When death comes, then winter and all seasons die.

When death comes and dirt is piled over our coffin, we do not suffocate. When death comes and worms devour our flesh, we do not cry out. When death comes and snow piles upon our grave, we do not shiver. When death comes and trees blossom, we do not smell their scent. When death comes and flowers bloom, we do not see their colours. When death comes and harvest is gathered in, our corpse remains buried in the field.

Our only hope is excrement.

Perhaps our corpse will be eaten by a worm; and the worm by a bird; and the bird by a fox; and the fox dies and composts the soil; and the composted soil feeds an apple tree; and the apple tree bears fruit; and then someone takes a bite out of us, and we cleave to them, and briefly live again in a state of unknowing or atomic memory.

No god will come to save us. No god ever did.

No god made the world. No god loved the world. No god damned the world. No god saved the world. Except, of course, the god of stories told by parents to their children, about faith and hope and love. But children sense the truth. And so they cry at night because they fear the darkness whose name is death.

Children sense the truth because they’re not wise enough to believe the lies. They remain possessed by animal instincts. Like a puppy they fear death without knowledge of its magnitude. Neither know of the dangers that they face when crossing a street, or from a stranger, or even their own parents but they know death’s smell, the coldness of its hand and they fear to face it. They know better than to look death in the eye, they prefer to be surprised in the last second, prefer not to see it coming, prefer to gasp the last breath and expire.
Although death comes in an instant, fear of its coming can last a lifetime. The torturer knows this and so delays death’s approach, has it hover on the threshold, keeps it at bay, so that it might be preceded by terror and fear. But if you don’t wait for death, if it just happens, if death just happens, then all beginnings end at once.

Clench your fist, shout at the dark, scream at the night, turn on the lights, rip down the shades, burn down the house, stare at the sun, prick your finger, cover your head, hide in a closet, run to a cave, swim to an island, visit a temple, confess to a priest, libate to a god, give a coin to a ferryman.

Your fist is dust, your shout unheard, your scream no more, the lights are dimmed, the shades destroyed, your house burned down, the sun unlit, you feel no pain, all covers crumbled, the closet empty, the cavern endless, the island sunk, the temple rubble, the priest exposed, the god unworshipped. As for death, no amount of pleading will stop his boney tap upon your shoulder, and when you’ve crossed the Styx all is forgotten: name, breath, flesh, the pull of gravity on your bones, the pull of love on your heart.

Buy a puppy, steal a kitten, have a baby, eat spring lamb; pluck an apple, bite it slowly, eat its flesh and eat its core. Hold the moment in the now, not the ever receding past, or the fast approaching future. Hold this word, this text, this breath, this blink, this heartbeat, this pulse of blood to the head. In an hour you might be dead. A car crashed, a bus swerved, a cut turned sceptic, a fish bone lodged, a ladder slipped, a gas main leaked, a stabbing, a shooting or a violent brawl.

Now is all you can call your own. Not even a moment from now can be taken for granted, not even to the end of this line, for each moment could be your last.

So, play with the puppy, stroke the kitten, cherish your baby, and chew the spring lamb. But know that no kisses can deflect death’s mouth should it come for your breath. No moment of rapture in the arms of a lover, no drop of sweat or semen, no moment of fulfilment of being inside or taken by another, no tongue on hot flesh can prepare us for the cold to come. We cannot take the memory of a liaison with Apollo to the grave, Eros will not fly to our aid no matter that he has driven his arrow deep in our flesh, a swallow of Dionysus’ joy may muddle our thoughts and make time fly faster than the feet of Mercury, we may feel like we have been struck by Zeus’ bolt from the heavens when we look at our lover.

But remember their face, burn it into the very electrons of your mind, for in an instant, it will pass out, like all thoughts, and hopes, and loves and only if there is some warped sense of humour that rules the cosmos, will that image, that love, live on, in the movement of the stars.

Michael Petry 2018