I have been thinking about death a lot –
picking out my plot instead of turning away
and I have decided that I want you to hollow
out a tree trunk and place me inside. Don’t
chop it down, leave it growing and upright. Keep
the top open so that crows can make nests
in my hair. It is always a mess anyway. Leave me
there with my arms splayed like branches
so the local kids tell each other terrible stories
about the dead scarecrow woman who lives
in the woods. I wouldn’t want my stories to stop
after I have lost the power to tell them myself.
Could you also make sure I am wearing a welcoming
smile, not a grimace, as even though my face will be
hidden within my standing grave, I still want to be the
light relief. And we mustn’t call it a grave. I was never
that serious, more of a hedonist with tendencies
towards deceitfulness and an unreasonable amount
of laughter which I also think must continue. So with
that in mind, could you record the sound of my
snorts, my giggles, my guffaws and sometimes
play them in the forest, in the dark? Set up your old
boom box among the rocks and put it on repeat. I just
want to lark about and as the afterlife is still uncertain
I need my body to do the work. Just set this up
for me and we can both enjoy the looks of terror
on people’s faces as they rush by. Maybe when you die
you can be a tree here, too. I have been thinking
about life a lot – losing the plot instead of turning
away and I have decided that I want you to turn me
into a wildlife reserve, maybe take a knife to my
stomach where squirrels can burrow when it gets cold
and insects can borrow my eye sockets to use as their home
and the stories about the dead scarecrow woman
who lives in the woods will never stop being told.
I visit my uncle
whose nose has been partly cut away
to remove some of the skin cancer,
who can only eat through a feeding
tube, who has lost all his weight,
who has developed an infection
and a bloodied, sore face, whose
wife feeds him and gives him his
morphine and antibiotics, who has
blood in his pee when he goes once
per day, whose organs are shutting
down, who, when he asks if it’s
curtains for him, hears the answer
yes. And I leave to go back to my
upgraded hotel room and I eat pizza
and drink Southern Comfort and
the next day I go home and kiss my
boyfriend and go to work and my
aunt and uncle will carry on for
the next two weeks or maybe more
but that will be all, just a few more
weeks of enjoying this world in that
hell hole of a body and we all watch and
listen and know that we will each follow,
somehow, someday, and we’re all
already on our way.
the earth is bone dry and cracked under the shade
of the trees, a desert in this full yet so deserted place.
Three times a year we would come when I was a child,
with plastic flowers or a wreath at Christmas. I filled
up the watering can at the tap and watch as mum and
dad cleared off dead leaves, forced metal plant supports
into the soil, hoped the rabbits wouldn’t come this time.
A vision of dad spitting onto a tissue to wipe the bird
muck off the grey granite. Grandmother visiting once
and declaring that this is no place for a child to be and
me silently agreeing as I stood at the sidelines, hands in
pockets. We scraped our shoes against the pavement
as we walked to get rid of some of the mud on those
rainy days. I wondered what they all felt and what that
was like and I still do, years later, coming by myself,
a visit partly because everyone else is in Spain and even
the dead should have visitors on their birthdays, and
partly because I want to see if I can feel something.
I don’t. I don’t feel grief and I can’t force myself to
feel it no matter how long I stand and stare at my
name and his engraved in the stone, at red and white
flowers I never would have chosen, at the gold cross
and the platitudes I hate. I don’t feel but as a by-product
of that I feel guilty for not feeling and I feel angry that
I can’t feel and I feel jealous of all the people who do
I have never felt numb and I have always psycho-analysed
myself and I have always known myself, but to not know
him, and to not feel for him – I don’t know what to do
with that so I sit on a bench and enjoy the sunshine and the
grass and think about how emotional I usually am and how
much I have grieved for myself but how today of all days
I can’t shed a single tear for him, not even a drop
to dampen the cracked, dry earth beneath my feet.
I had a dream we were going for a walk in the park
because that is what he enjoyed doing.
I don’t know if that is really true.
He might have hated walking.
They wanted me to come on the walk.
Mother, my niece, my nephews.
The kids saw it as a nice trip out.
I was not part of any of their experiences,
caught somewhere between being a
sibling and a stranger.
He mattered too much and not enough.
Here and not.
Known and not.
Mine and not.
I didn’t want to go on the walk,
or be with any of them
so while they got ready
I stood in the kitchen for ages
leaning on the countertop,
eyes glazed over, my blank stares
making the refrigerator feel uncomfortable.
Mother just laughed at me and asked
why I stood there for so long.
I found someone who could probably empathise with the loss of my brother, who would know what it’s like to not remember a family member and not be able to grieve… and they are a fictional character! It’s Rodney from Only Fools and Horses, which my partner has been watching recently. I can definitely relate to this conversation, from S2E5: The Yellow Peril. Rodney and Del are sat by their mother’s grave. I bolded the important bit. If anyone else can relate, let me know. That would be sort of nice.