The Dead Are Holding Something Back

by Melissa Mulvihill

Secretly, I think the dead are holding something back.

I’m grieving over headstones broken in half and crumbling. I reach for words to speak about engravings that have lost their depth and have been made unreadable by the permanent pressing of time and the passing weather patterns prying at their meaning. I sigh. I don’t even believe in saving dead bodies and I certainly don’t embrace infinite human existence and yet here is where things matter. All words end here. People say things here.

I don’t say it outright but I know that there are people who wish their entire lives, every atom of every moment, were different. When I am close to them, they leak regret and tragedy and they’re always unfinished rather than in progress. Being here is like stepping into the obvious thickness that surrounds a person like that. The air is heavy and my ears are blocked from the pressure. At first, I wonder where such devastation begins and the importance of understanding the origin seems necessary and possible but nothing ever begins when or where I think it does. When I go looking for the beginning and try to find the roots of anything, I just discover more layers of soil. Personhood is emergent. People ended here.

It’s humanity’s strong preference for focusing on problems that have brute force solutions that have always derailed me. If I make extensive funeral plans and put this expensive and personalized gravestone here in this place, then somehow, I too will also be here even after I’ve ended and then decomposed. That’s the straight line of transference completely exposed and bleeding like an open vein that’s been obvious to me from the beginning. I mean, I can assemble known facts into valid inferences all I want and I’ll still be left with the moment that I realized that my life could be measurable by weeks, days, or hours. I can name the particles that make up my particles and the fields that guide them and the forces that govern them. I can measure the things that we make to measure me. The particles that make up these gravestones are the same as mine and, yet my beliefs are emergent. People believe things here.

I gather the broken pieces of a headstone with intention; I haul the scattered pieces back to where I think they belong. I don’t feel angry, just insufficient. I’m exaggerated and my nerves are exposed. Everything is a dull ache as if the sharp cuts inflicted by the green grass that’s sliced clean through the grave markers cannot heal. The scab just never forms.  Wholeness is emergent. People are in pieces here.

I know there are rules about disturbed ground and not speaking ill of the dead but there’s no breath in their eyes and the bodies here are evidence; they are objects of love and regret. They are the outcome of all of the piled-up weight of human possibilities. All of their anxious delays, serious misgivings, excruciating guesses, high-falutin defense mechanisms, and obvious weapons in survival are laid here. They’re evidence of things neither comprehensible nor fixable and of things suddenly not hidden. Existence is emergent. People were left behind here.

I whisper when I speak at all even though the loudness announced itself first off. It’s fucking loud. Like guns, emotions have recoil. In the endless echo I find the concept of my own non-existence fascinating and horrifying. I fancy that the reverberations are confessions. I’m well aware that the counter move to a confession is absolution. Unless I think the sin is unforgivable. Unless I think that people are unforgivable. Liberation is emergent.  People have been forgiven here.

I know very well that I’m expendable. I know that one day my plagues will overtake me with precision. I’ll be swept up in the entropy. I refuse to spend my time in discourse rooted in platitude, flailing on the edge of the beat, upset in a fundamental way. I’m not inventing new worlds that require new gods. Purpose is emergent. People find gods here.

There’s no stigma in being dead once I’ve done everything I needed to do and there is no more purpose to pursue. What happens at my death will depend on the person I am when I get there and what arrangements my particles have taken up, but being here now is like being present for all of those moments when all of the people were left in the ground. A vibration in that field is all that’s left. This hardly seems like the best way to remember soulful beings.

I end up leaning the broken headstone pieces against another grave marker. There’s nothing that I have that can hold them together. Even though we are made of the same stuff, I cannot mend these stones. Or these people.

I’m grieving over headstones broken in half and crumbling. I reach for words to speak about engravings that have lost their depth and have been made unreadable by the permanent pressing of time and the passing weather patterns prying at their meaning. I sigh. I don’t even believe in saving dead bodies and I certainly don’t embrace infinite human existence and yet here is where things matter. Contradiction is emergent. All words end here. People say things here.

Secretly, though, I think the dead are holding something back.

About the Author

Melissa writes about finding things in places she thought were empty. Her poems and essays can be found at Prometheus Dreaming, The Feminine Collective, The Write Launch, Wild Roof Journal, and Impspired. She's a frequent contributor at The Blue Nib and her poems are anthologized at The Poet's Haven Digest. Her poem, Your Phone Call, was selected for The Blue Nib 2017 Anthology. Chariotless God, Melissa's latest essay, can be found at Kalopsia Literary Journal. She graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in psychology and from John Carroll University with an M.A. in counseling.