Memento Mori

Find a patch of soft green grass, or sharp brown grass, or a bit of carpet that is freshly vacuumed or a bit of carpet that is full of shards of the raw oats you ate in bed last night when you couldn’t sleep. Or find an expansive space on a gleaming golden waxed hardwood floor or a cramped spot in the corner of a bathroom hall on a patch of pale and peeling laminate covered by a fine dust of cat litter. Find it and lie down. All the way down. Lay your hairs down and your heels down and the grabbing fast-twitch fingers on your hands, lay them down. Be still enough to feel the cells falling off, the skin sliding back to collect closer to the floor until it becomes the floor. The creases near your eyes will consider unbecoming. Your breasts will disperse centrifugally and you’ll notice their urgency to reclaim nothingness, nipples to nowhere, an urgency that’s built for years, since they were last sucked by someone who was hungry.

When you decompose, your fluids become a comedy. Think of it this way: on the one hand, you could wake up every day. On the other, you could decompose. In one scenario, you sleep and wake up, you drink spring water or boxed wine or Pinot Noir from a good year or bathwater-warm Diet 7-Up or iced tea from a gas station. You drink Miller Genuine Draft, the champagne of beers, five in a bucket on karaoke night at Bill & Dee’s or Brass Monkey in a bathtub in a house on a cul-de-sac. And no matter what it is you drink, you’ll have to wake up again the next day.

But at the moment you start decomposing, when you are serious, really serious and no longer pretending, the blood and eggs and pee and synovial fluid and mucous and aqueous humor and lymph and bile and cerebrospinal fluid and interstitial fluid you have at that very moment, the moment of your closing incipience, that fluid becomes the whole sum of fluid you will ever have. Nothing more and nothing less.


Hold a wide-bottomed stemless glass or a flute or a jelly jar for chardonnay leftover from your boyfriend’s uncle’s wake. Hold a Campbell’s Kids soup mug bought in 1979 with box tops or a blue ceramic mug made to look like a tin enamel cup commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Oklahoma Library Association or a wavy green artisan-made shot glass that that you brought back from Guatemala in your luggage only to find its twin at the Dollar Tree. Just pick something and hold it. Sit on a bar stool with three long legs and one short leg or at a brown table in a breakfast nook or cross-legged at a craftsman style table in a divorced dining room. Just find a place. Take the wine bag out of the box and milk it into the glass with your own farmerly square hands or hold your glass stable at the base for the waiter’s deft twisting pour or nudge your glass like the snout of a lonely dog against the bottle-holding hand of a friend or a stranger. Or sit like a woman for once and wait.

What you do next is particularly insignificant, so lick the face of your boyfriend or the neck of your husband or smoke a cigarette on the spongy black tiles of a playground. Or eat the vitreous amber bath beads on the back of the toilet in a guest bathroom. (If you eat them, do it one at a time because it’s all about the surprise of the pop followed by the sexual soapy ooze.) Cry in the shower or make a new friend on the street of a city that isn’t your own. Your new friend may have named himself and he may show you the hand tattoos he got in memory of the now dead mother who brought him here when he was a baby, to escape war. Say the tattoos are beautiful or the mother is beautiful or think for a minute you see the beating hopeful pulse of something exactly like you in the pupils of his eyes. Or get your arms caught in the sleeves of your shirt on a roof that makes you want to be shirtless or stand on your bare toes to mouth the pink and white eyelash-flowers of the mimosa tree like you never learned it was a weed. Or, give regrettable head, in a car or a truck that is parked by a dumpster or the Rio Grande or a wheat field or the ocean.

Then, just open the door of the moving taxi on the Tappan Zee bridge because you think you need to spit out a little of that last cocktail or curl on a bathmat while a fat man pees a stream of PBR over your body. Or feel for the grocery bags next to the bed or lean over the porch railing or take off your clothes and kiss someone and crawl to the bathroom. Just throw up and do it again. Until you are empty. Until all the animals in the house purr or whine or moan in concern or disgust around the toilet, until there is nothing left and you are shaking and sweating and empty and your teeth chatter and your arms are sore and you can’t remember why.

Then go to sleep. On a sofa under a tablecloth and over a man you think you recognize from class or the alley near the dumpster where the roses grow. Or sleep in your own flannel bed or the bed of a lover or a hotel or your mother, or the bed of a pickup truck lined with sleeping bags. When you wake up, your only job will be eating burnt toast and honey or swallowing ibuprofen or the cum of a grateful man who can be gentle enough not to gag you. Your day will be reduced to the careful execution of a few of the finite number of anatomical movements of which the human body is capable. Dorsiflexion or plantar flexion or pronation or supination. Elevation or depression or opposition. Circumduction, movement in a circular manner, can be avoided. Today you just go straight ahead in an arrowly manner, from morning, to squinting white sun, to night, when you eat a raccoon’s pot of cold rice and sleep, finally, because you are just an animal.


Start a study of salt. Remember that this is a study, not a meal, a taste not a swallow. So put your tongue on the cartilaginous ridge of someone’s nostril and find that the outside edges of insides have a peculiar saline chill. Or put your mouth on the slick sex of a woman to discover that it has no taste of its own, just the flavor of the woman who wears it. Slip behind stanchions and ropes and press the tip of your tongue to a painting for a quick taste of a rough cerulean impasto ocean. You might feel a twinge of guilt, like you are lapping away at the future, selfishly eroding what your daughter’s daughters might someday slip past their own ropes to taste, but remember that if a woman is your daughter’s daughter, she will understand what propels you and besides, what she calls salt may not be cobalt or peacock or even blue at all.

Top up the forty teaspoons of sodium chloride in your roughly average adult human body and then add more. There is a time for delicacy and an artist’s hand and a different time, now, to let the salt burn past taste and flush your blood up to the edges of your skin, to remind you that you have edges but they can be minerally transgressed. Salt yourself like you are the tail of a bird hoping for a cage. Salt yourself like milk or shoes to keep the witches away. Salt yourself like Lot’s Wife, who had a name, after all, something like Edith. And who probably really walked away just fine from God’s impotent curse, or died of some ordinary thing like dehydration or grief.


Listen, because this is your chance to hear. Listen to Mozart’s Requiem or the first Suzuki lessons played on a child-sized cello. Listen to the twang and pull of stand-up bass played by a wall-eyed friend at Oklahoma’s first smoke-free honky-tonk or the movement of trees outside a sleeping window or the hum of lights in your office that might be the hum of the printer in the office next door. Listen to the echo of breath and heartbeat when your head is under a pillow for fear or comfort or just to disappear.

It doesn’t matter if you like the sound. Just find a frequency that will animate you autonomically, to remind you that you are a shuddery puppet to the paravertebral ganglia of the sympathetic chain. To remind you that you are an instrument yourself, of the vibration that surrounds you. Try to listen to the sound of your own ossicles (malleus, incus, stapes) and get lost in your cochlear labyrinth, freeing what you find at the center, because that monster is no more or less you than all the other noise and silence.

If you move, don’t call it dancing (that oppressive specter of agency). Let yourself be moved. By standing too close to the freight train that runs through your hometown at 10:32 on summer nights or putting your iliac crest juts in the hands of a stranger in Puerto Rico and forgetting your feet or letting the need of another body, for love or comfort or release, rock your own. You are all ligament and fragile fascia to this vibration, maybe marrow but no bone.

Walk until walking itself is homeostatic, swing and stance, on the burning painted cement next to the pool or up a sweaty foothill to see a shrine to a weathered Mary at a monastery in wine country. Walk echo-footed on the flickery greenlit hospital tile or down blocks of stores selling machine-enabled services you don’t understand in a language you don’t speak for number amounts in a currency you carry but can’t count. Displacement, distance, velocity, acceleration, time, and speed. The law of conservation is just a suggestion, you will be moved anyway, your inertial reference frame the frame of breath and motion, right up until it isn’t. Let the sound and the motion use you right up because this is your chance.


Now remember Hiroshima or 9/11 or the Alamo or the Maine. Remember Pearl Harbor or Columbine or the time when Timothy McVeigh, who looked just like the man who painted your mother’s house, bombed the Murrah Federal Building, so close you heard the bang. Or remember the clicking of the Doomsday Clock, now set to the after-dinner hour, when you are sleepy or restless or craving something sweet. Remember lymphoma or carcinoma or hairy cell leukemia. Remember Alzheimer’s or Ebola or ataxia. Remember the melting world, burning into frog soup like a lullaby, so slowly we hardly know we are not just falling asleep.

Remember there will be a last time you will write a grocery list or bring in the paper or strain the webbing of a lawn chair on your barren back patio and tell your daughter that you feel like you’ve lived a good enough life. There will be a last time you take a step with your funny hitched walk or sniff and crack your neck at the same time. There will be a last time you seem like yourself and a last time you are yourself, at least this self.

There may be a single star, a multifoliate rose, or just a recession of breath and heartbeat, synapse and stillness, until you are pulsed again into that something or nothing where this idea of you started, not with a bang or a whimper, but with a final soft ebb for which there is no sound. Remember this and as you do, feel for the soft grass or the stray stones of cat litter or the beige carpet or the cool spring park-dirt that is just the dry side of mud. Press yourself to the ground until you can’t feel where you begin or where the earth stops, but know that this not-knowing is a symptom of the fact that you have begun.

Newfangled Creature

Make a game out of nothing. Make rules and order out of air. Guess who is hurting you. Start over, do it again. Feel trapped.

On Entropy

“There are more people alive now than there / are dead in the earth, an article says.”