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The Work of the Grave


My ten-month old cattle dog pup was barking in the back where the woods and State land come to run up right over a small ridge, onto our rented property. She shudders at everything and it was with some reluctance that I went over to see what kind of thing she was worrying herself about – it could be a bird’s call, or a rustling of trees for all I know by her too-sensitive lights. But I was stunned to see her with her fur raised, barking and pacing before her first dead thing, her size. The fawn was beautiful, infantile, seemingly caught in mid-gallop. But it was something to see her so still.

I let her lay there for a few hours more before I could show my wife and decide together what to do. Somehow her presence, curled in the yard where we play, no sign of trespass or struggle, made the idea of disposing with her body important. Its hard to describe this kind of thing, but you know it. Some days there are apparitions that need to be buried, put to rest in a finer way. The ground is stony around there, and it seemed unlikely that a grave would be easy to dig, but we borrowed a neighbor’s shovel to add to our own and had at it; with her just a few feet away.

Digging a grave is not easy – even for such a small body as this – and as the two of us worked at the earth, red, ruddy soil came up (maybe it was iron in the dirt, or clay). And we chopped through the roots of a nearby tree that in a net defied the quickness of the act. It took a very long while, much longer than you’d think, and we were forced to expand the hole even when we thought we had done enough.

Those that speak of death in poetry or philosophy, draping it with adjectives or abstractions (like I have recently), should appreciate just what grave digging is. It is work for something to die. To open the ground is an effort. It takes sweat. We (or at least I) forget this. It is not just that there is a body there. It is that room has to be made in the thickness. Our small shovels flinted against stones that showed themselves in the dirt, suddenly. It was as if they were bubbling slowly from below. It amazes me that out of nowhere a beautiful thing can lie down in your yard and impose itself until you make the room.

It caused me to feel differently about death – the digging, then the lifting, the laying – it was not just that I will die, something that one long ago swallows, but also that when I die someone, someone, will likely have to dig, to lift up the earth. We forget this when we talk of absences and decay. It was a good feeling. I think there is a tendency to see burial as a covering up, a hiding, a kind of supplemental formal recognition. It really is not like that. This was no person, only a life, but I think she showed something of death that personness might distract from. Burial is a parting of the earth, a fold…not a hiding, an erasure, and a stamp.

I see the tide of dirt in the last photo. That water is deep.

2 responses to “The Work of the Grave

  1. Pingback: Dead Fawn (Things which are alike, in nature, grow to look alike) « Complete Lies.

  2. Pingback: Drawing Something Out of Nothing « Muay Thai

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