The Book of the Dead Man (Fungi)
Live as if you were already dead. – Zen admonition 1. About the Dead Man and Fungi The dead man has changed his mind about moss and mold. About mildew and yeast. About rust and smut, about soot and ash. Whereas once he turned from the sour and the decomposed, now he breathes deeply in the underbelly of the earth. Of mushrooms, bakers yeast, fungi of wood decay, and the dogs preceding their masters to the burnt acre of morels. And the little seasonals themselves, stuck on their wobbly pin stems. For in the pan they float without crisping. For they are not without a hint of the sublime, nor the curl of a hand. These are the caps and hairdos, the mini-umbrellas, the zeppelins of a world in which human beings are heavy-footed mammoths. Puffballs and saucers, recurrent, recumbent, they fill the encyclopedia. Not wrought for the pressed eternity of flowers or butterflies. Loners and armies alike appearing overnight at the point of return. They live fast, they die young, they will be back. 2. More About the Dead Man and Fungi Fruit of the fungi, a mushroom's birthing is an arrow from below. It is because of Zeno's Paradox that one cannot get there by half-measures. It is the fault of having anything else to do. The dead man prefers the mushroom of the gatherer to that of the farmer. Gilled or ungilled, stemmed or stemless, woody or leathery, the mushroom is secretive, yes, by nature. Each mushroom was a button, each a flowering, some glow in the dark. Medicinal or toxic, each was lopped from the stump of eternity. The dead man has seen them take the shapes of cups and saucers, of sponges, logs and bird nests. The dead man probes the shadows, he fingers the crannies and undersides, he spots the mushroom underfoot just in time. When the dead man saw a mushrooming cloud above Hiroshima, he knew. He saw that death was beautiful from afar. He saw that nature is equidistant from the nourishing and the poisonous, the good and the bad, the beginning and the end. He knew the littlest mushroom, shivering on its first day, was a signal.
Copyright © 2009 by Marvin Bell. Used by permission of the author. All rights reserved.