Real Love – or Love in the flesh
The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.
Edgar Allan Poe
As mind unravels, your final sense hears a respirator chug
or a horoscope of flies buzzing the transparencies, my strained voice
or songs bubbling on the radio with news on the hour of disaster.
If you go first I’ll look for signs of life’s high-wire skills and check
the props of your disappearing act, but the dead cover their tracks.
I’m no Orpheus singing song lines in falsetto above rocky Thrace
dismembered by a mob of jealous women, the severed head floating
out to sea still singing. I’ll not romanticise death. Grief will forge an art
reconciled to a smeared optic for daylight’s muffled forms of beauty.
I love you indescribably alive, gloving bags of breast bone and biopolymers.
Thales was closer than most, well over half of you is soaking water
and with age or trauma, memory may rupture and you’d evaporate.
I could search the archive for the adventurers, Finn McCool and Colmcille
who roamed the Gaeltacht from Fanad Head to Slieve League and the islands
where sunlight shunts into a grey Atlantic spawning the dark curve of night.
They haunt your history of poacher turned gamekeeper from Fettiglass Wood
to the royal burial grounds, the tumuli of Tulsk where I fell through
the entrance to the underworld, the pilgrim site now guarded by nettles.
Welts surfed down my legs; you felt sorry for me, you kissed me better.
Instead of Celtic myth I’ll make do with accounts of raw materials,
wild facts, and what I imagine their destination to be.
Once your heart muscle halts its life of 3 billion beats, mouth stops,
breath fades, blood pools, capillaries drain from the upper skin
that pallors to the substance of ghosts. I imagine its last convulsion
as easily as black light. Like sharks breathing in the ocean, a body needs
a constant flow of blood or cells cease aerobic respiration and fail to generate
the energy to maintain the momentum of bones – over two hundred
assembling two million red blood cells a second to shoot though
rich muscle and 85,000 kilometres of capillaries. The brain continuously
firing billions of synapses needs a litre of blood a minute to inject
the expansive spirals through the web of vessels, or cells perish.
In the time we sing a song, one professional boxing round, the city stops,
then unless frozen, burnt or savaged by dogs, we violate ourselves.
In the time it takes to watch a movie, calcium ions leak into dying muscle
preventing relaxation, ramming rigor mortis home, your source of strength,
a static dance that lasts a day lily’s sombre bloom or mayfly’s excited flight.
Crow flying on his shadow may notice a brightness, twist his wings
at the shoulder for increased lift, flatten the feathers, slow the beat,
spread the tail and land on your pale freckled face. That black beak
might stab an augury from beautiful cornflower eyes, or a mortician
might use their fingers to pack your skull with resin, sawdust or linen;
or a taxidermist could grant a glassy stare if your sockets remained round.
There’s no first-hand account, though Plato describes how the soul,
when death’s wait is over, untangles itself from the tissue of warm flesh
and released, floats steadily up to the eternal sphere like a balloon.
With ritual support magic pacifies connections beyond explanation,
best left to bed-time stories where they all live happily ever after.
Wary of belief, I use the art of the scop, a collective memory of kings
and their warriors, of death as glorious, a strew of corpses subject
to interrogation, enforced graves, repeated rhythms of the past
and a future indexed to statistics of entropy and decay.
Man is not an end product,
Maggot asserts. Basil Bunting
Half your cells are symbiotic gastarbeiters of the digestive industries,
proof of expansion, entanglement and intimacy with life on earth.
Microbes tuck in to the guts and advance down the seven metres
of small intestine cabling, eating locally like songbirds gulping aphids
then singing lamentations, such connections make up our lives.
They break out of the gut and swarm throughout to vandalise
and cannibalise the neighbourhood, uncontrollable and as manic
as the mercenary Visigoths employed with prejudice to protect Rome.
The stench is feasting bacteria on a roll.
An eighteenth century doctor observed through his limbic nose
that his farts stank like the cadavers stacked in his dissecting room,
supposed the living and the dead share decomposition as a life principle.
Unable to fight off your own flesh and blood, decomposition freestyles
a generous genealogy from solids to liquids staining the walls, soaking
the carpet, to rank stink recycling exchanging one organism for millions.
Engineers call E. coli ‘faecal coliform’, a sweet indicator of faecal matter
dropped by warm-blooded animals; we alone drop 140 billion a day.
Our fundamental nature engulfs a bruising animal alchemy.
This may not be what Ovid meant by, “Everything changes;
nothing dies; the soul / Roams to and fro, now here, now there,
and takes/ What frame it will, passing from beast to man.”
A blowfly sniffs death at five miles. Accompaniment to natural order
is the sound of wings, flies converge on death’s moment of triumph
at 200 beats a second; even your extra tail bone cannot whisk them off
and stop the world invading. They work furiously, pumping batches of
up to 500 eggs into any wound or puckered orifice that bears fruit.
Within a day the first eggs hatch all-at-once and maggots roam en masse
eating softest first, eyeballs and inside the nose and mouth. Your face
falls in, weeping ammonia with a strange expression. An old philosopher
scrawls Ataraxia then blanches as the insects burrow further, using
mouth-hooks to tunnel through a baroque body, spreading enzymes and bacteria
that eat into soft lamina, yawing, stretching, tearing the fabric of your structure.
From dusk to dawn or dawn to dusk the climate cools to touch.
Anaerobic creatures with cadaverous rights emerge from deep time
tolerant of acidic conditions caused by a build up of lactic acid.
Azotobacters bowl along to swell your body with gas and round
a ruinous cartoon character wearing your heart on a green sleeve.
Putrefaction quickens the pace of gluttony. Bacteria are oblivious to
the boredom of hands, colours of sleep, retched disgust, or a makar’s
urgent compositions, love poems as scented lures. The world spins
on my love for you, but after all our passion your body starts, gently
at first, to heave and deform. The waxy alabaster covering swells
and your suit, fitted a thousand times in a lifetime, splits and darkens.
Slip into something more comfortable, take Eros out dancing
or dine by candlelight with shy young Thánatos, son of Erebos and Nyx.