Teach me to bury this. Teach me to rub lemons over all this. How do I nip a thing in the bud, kill at the root. How do I cross a puddle that lay so cadaverous and awful or enter a room with so many watching.
A dead raven. It is surprising to see how limp: I know we loosen when we vacate our bodies, but we bloat and we stiffen. I know this, but birds seem different, no part of them seems soft even in life, nothing comforting, nothing to stroke, nothing to eat except too-hard muscle. They are so many feathers and not much else. I want to touch it, because I have held a dead animal before, and there is something about the rolling head that is pleasing and terrible.
This is a spectacle. And thousands of ravens come to see it. Not all at once. Some better fight the urge than others, slowly materializing. They arrive in threes or twos or sometimes less. As the faces slowly appear, I notice that they are all dumb faces, without thought or expression. Dumb faces all pointing in the same direction, encompassing. There is a visual threshold, so they are only so far away, but very far away: a match at a mile. They keep appearing, though, so they encroach on our space. To see you. And there is a limit, and it creates a border just out of my reach, just beyond my outstretched knuckled finger and oval nail. I dream of nothing but boundaries and dreams between my breasts.
One raven comes over to scratch at the dry yellow ground. It collects under his nails, and isn't it amazing how something yellow seems so brown under keratin and hair. And he scratches for a very long time. Change is always so slow. I am mourning you, weeping. My forehead is dustily transparent and my cheeks are dirty the way lips get dirty and then peel, the way we peel back plastic wrap, and the way we only clean that which we can reach.
I pause and wonder momentarily at who has sent this raven, why this raven acted differently than the rest. I trust it was god, though I have been foolish about snakes before.
The yellow ground is so dry and it flakes, coming up in plaster chunks, but the residue only falls into the newfound absences, the air pockets, and leave a layer of something porous, covered and pressed, stamped, with something fine. Scratch, but it is like wax on unfinished wood, like something thin on something flat, and no nails can get under it. It breaks and chips and smashes and dusts finer and finer, until all that the raven can do is take his tiny head, point his nose into his chest, and push it all away, leaving his forehead matted with ground or ash. And then all he can do is somehow begin again. Another thin layer.
He looks frantic, rushing. This must be done by May, but this is so difficult. There is grease and dust covering everything, and each hour of work only changes so little.
How can you be at this for so long. Are you really digging for five or six or ten hours at a time. I can't imagine anything to be this difficult. I can't imagine.
He can't imagine. But it is this difficult.
Until finally it is not, and enough layers have been scratched away, built up like a crater, piled about like stones, like ravens viewing carrion. Until finally the last task is to push the thing into this shallow hole. And he pushes the thing into this shallow hole then turns around and faces me in some horrible way with exhausted eyes with sagging skin and brow and bloodshot and so fucking dark, so beautifully dark, and I just look at them as he flaps back that which he has pulled up.
I see the hurry in him, the fear and urgency. And it is now, with the thing covered, that I understand why this has appeared. The raven is showing me something I have never seen before, delivering a message with its iron beak, a message from a god that shows me what to do with this burst appendix, you, this body, the first I've seen lifeless. He is insistent: it would be awful to not do this, it would be awful to leave this incomplete, it would be a bad thing to do anything but this even though there are so many other things to do. You have to bury, but I am so tired.
I protest. I don't want your firm linearity covered this way. I don't understand this, this death, this lifelessness or this just-body. But I know that this raven is telling me what must be done for my kin who has fallen the way I have felled so many of his creatures. Unfit for food. And loved. But I don't want him to tell me what to do with a dead body; I want him to make the lifeless body not a dead body.
If you can send a message, you can revive the dead. So then why not.
I don't want you covered, because I am not ashamed of you, I should not be ashamed of you, the way I am of my own body. But yours is a body too, so of course I am ashamed, that is why I am here, on the ground, covered in dust, weeping; and that is why he came and told me what to do with you. But I knew once that there is nothing shameful in a body to hide. If shame exists in your flesh, I implanted it in you, the way he placed the seed of it in mine. I projected it outward. So the question is not whether you need be hidden. The question is, Am I ashamed of you.
But this shame is mine, not yours, never because of you, but because I am ashamed of my wide hips and my inability to distinguish between emotions and sex, of my ears and sagging breasts, of my inability to rightly exist in my body the way you did yours. I am ashamed that there is nothing thrashing in me, that I am making no attempts at anything other than at attempts. I try to try, but you do. And I am ashamed of you, yes, in part. So he came, and he said, Bury it. Cover it.
And I could end it that easily. But the problem is not how to measure difficulty. The problem is a question: Do I want it ended.
I will never be done with you, I think. I can't say I am just beginning with you, because everyone says that, and I want to be first, best, more than enough. I want to be able to say that I could put you away at any moment.
Abel keeps secrets, hidden with him under this yellow ground. Cain is the storyteller, so once I told him, the world knew. Now we know to bury a raven. Now we know how we know to bury the dead, if we do bury the dead. And I am always before the story.
Through phone-cans and aging voices, the same story becomes the suggestion that it is bad luck to kill a raven. As if burial demonstrated attrition. As if a corpse alone is proof of violence. And I admit, this is violent. But it isn't bad luck to kill anything.
You can drown anything.
But the corpse is yours to do something with.
So we bury to hide our shame with it.
I wept at not knowing what to do with you. Nothing exists as an appendix, grown useless and fit only to burst. Nothing is a place-holder, but rather is singly, wholly loved. And when I am sad, I am vacant. Just this body. My eyes still see, so I look straight ahead because all my muscles are stiff cement. Nothing but barren landscape, just a path, just your body, lying in the road. The entire world becomes just my body and your body. Without lodgment. We could be anywhere: Eden, Egypt, Chicago. Against the lake, in the mountains, on the rocks.
How do I still have all my fingernails. And how do you. I break one off and throw it to the ocean, and I consider the waves of blood. This throbbing digit is for you. The uncracking knuckles and blistered shoulders, this burnt hair around my right wrist, this scar, here—all for you.
You died, I dig. You gave me a body for which to dig a hole.
I am frustrated. I weep, like this. I throw myself amongst shredded papers on the floor, and I forget that you are somewhere, watching me. And you are embarrassed at my inability, calling away those who might see; attracting everyone, giving priority to your ability so that none is given to the possibility that I might fuck up.
In a frenzy, I shove the snow aside so that I can do this for you, so that I can give you this one message. I lift and carry something too heavy for my frame, and I launch it to the ground in the hope of making a crater to end Russia and you with it.
But I feel immobilized, any of my attempts at attempting, futile: for as much shit and ejecta and debris there may be, the compression wave has only compacted that which I must till. I create for myself an impossible density that cannot be pushed aside.
So how much of this will linger, decay here in the air. How many times have I given myself something to bury without the strength to dig. I have gone through fifteen ways of telling you one thing only to find that there is no way of telling you at all. I can only hope you come to find me in a dark, damp, wide-wouthed cave a thousand ages from now and I have the strength to lift my limp wrists to present you with my broken nails and rough hands, to point and show you that that, there, is what I tried to make for you.
earned his Nonfiction MFA from Columbia College Chicago, where he also taught. His work appears in 1913, Columbia Poetry Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal
and Wilde Magazine
. "The Secret Garden" (South Loop Review
) was selected as a Notable Essay in The Best American Essays 2013.