The Funeral

June 30: The Funeral

In the depths of the earth, I can hear them stirring:  the countless, unliving dead.  The ground is full of them; they are as the blades of grass, as the dust-motes in the shafts of sunlight.  They are that terrible army we must join.  Death is in us now.  Its voice is the only voice that rings through us always.  The child picks a flower: our bodies lie in her hand.  A deer bends to drink at a mountain stream: our blood enters his throat.  The horrible screaming in the ground… ah, that’s what we hear in that one mad hour of the night.  Our own calling to us– do not answer! Madness is there.  Christ was crucified not on the cross but in the ground–by their voices:  he arose from the dead.

“Wait a minute,” Jetter said,  “you may think that’s a proper sermon and all that, but it don’t sound like no way to bury somebody.  How about a bit of Bible reading?”

We stood around the black hole which had been dug in the yellow, soft clay of the river bank.  It was late at night and our lanterns made us figures in an earthquake.

“We came here to bury Chrystal, not parade her, “ I said.

“And what does that mean?” Billy Delian asked, coughing in the mist that covered us like wet flannel.

“It means that we must speak the truth over the graves of the poor,” I answered.  “The Bible belongs to the rich.”

“That’s stupid,” Thomas Honey said, “How can you say that the Bible is the sole property of the rich.”

“No puns, please,” Jetter said.

“Because the Bible belongs to the church,” I explained.

“There’s where you go off track,” Thomas Honey said.  “I admit that the church is controlled by the rich, but actually it is the poor who sustain its existence.”

“By the sweat of their brow?”

“No, by their will.”

“I suppose they will the state in the same way.”

“Not at all.  Their dog-like submission to the state breeds in them a need to seek solace in the church.”

“Do you say that the state is the cause and the church is the effect?”  I was not sure that he was being honest with me.

“That would rule out the religious impulse altogether.

“Do the rich have this too?”

“They have the church.”

“I thought the church belonged to the poor by right of their will…”

“What man wills possesses him.”

“Then what you are saying is that the poor willed a monster which the rich use for the destruction of the poor.”

“You forget one thing… the poor, even more than the church, are the creation and property of the rich.”

“And will destroy the rich…?”

“Of course,” Thomas Honey said.

“Then,” I answered, “since the state exists in the will of the rich, it is the state which possesses the rich, and not the rich the state, as we have supposed?”

“That is true.  The state is the monster which the rich have set at their own throats.”

“But it is the throats of the poor which bleed now,” I said.  We would have to lower the coffin soon: day was nibbling at the trees.

“The monsters of state and church shall one day sleep under the hill where rises a free and beautiful world,” he said.

“And the rich will have died at the hands of the poor?” I asked.  A cock crowed from the yard of a farmer.

“By no means,” Thomas Honey said.  “They will have died under the teeth of their own monsters.  The poor can no more inherit the earth than there can be ‘mute, inglorious Miltons’: for if a man be mute, where the poet? inglorious—how Milton?  and if  Milton, how can he be other than Milton?  If a man have an inheritance, however small, he cannot be poor; and if he have the whole world…?”

“Let’s put her in,” Jetter said.

“What should be said as we lower her down?” Billy Delian asked.”  “You have ruled out words of Bible and state…”

Footsteps could be heard coming down the bank of the river.  We must not be found there.  A low whistle sounded near us.  A sharp, brutal noise—the bark of a dog on the chase.

I said: “You were one of us.”  And we lifted her down into the earth and the earth we put over her.

We were moving away, extinguishing our lanterns as we went—it could have been a monster, that wounded horse charging out of the trees, entrails swinging like bloody vines under him, and screaming, God! it was a woman screaming—knees buckling under him in the soft dirt of the new grave, chopping up the coffin-wood and the body of Chrystal flying in red horror into the deep river.

from The Journal of Albion Moonlight
© Kenneth Patchen 1941


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