The Book of the Dead Man (Nothing)
Live as if you were already dead. – Zen admonition 1. About the Dead Man and Nothing The dead man knows nothing. He is powerless to stop the battles, he has no way to reattach the arms and legs. He cannot stuff the fallen soldier's insides back inside. He has no expertise in the matter of civilian corpses, nor of friendly fire, nor beheadings, nor revenge, nor suicide. He does not know the depth of depth charges, or the exact pressure that detonates a land mine. The dead man has given his all so that now, if he once knew, he knows nothing. He is emptied, he is the resonant cavity of which he spoke when it was music he was thinking of. Let him be now the leftover button of his work shirt. Permit him his fading mirror, his sputtering circuits, his secrets, his tears, his noonday duels with the sun. Let him ride the roads in the bucket of an earth mover, can it hurt? Let him stand under the icicles, can he catch cold? For the dead man is stagnant without knowledge, and he cannot survive the demise of philosophy or art. To the dead man they were not spectacles, but survival skills. To the dead man, the world was but a birthmark that befell original space. To say that the dead man knows nothing is to see him at the beginning, who can it hurt? Before all this, he was nothing. 2. More About the Dead Man and Nothing Don't bet he won't be born. Before all this, this that is so much, he was not himself. He was the free heat of space and then the salt of the earth. He was the ring around the moon, foretelling. The dead man had no station when he came to be, just a strange nakedness in the light. He did not know what he was to do, this was before clocks. So he decided to stab the dirt, to tumble in happiness and writhe in pain, and to flap his way into space. To go home. It was a swell idea for the dead man, and he pinned it to his chest. Give him that, that he crystallized a plan, that he made from smoke something to him as real as quartz, ivory, or the hoof of a gelding. The dead man had the whole world to transform or perfect or outlive. He wrote the book of nothing and no-time that entombed all time and all that took place in time. The dead man could not be hammered by analysis. Let him horn in on your fury, whatever it was, and it will abate. The energy that became form will disperse, never again to be what we were. Look out the window to see him, no, the other one.
Copyright © 2009 by Marvin Bell. Originally published in Poetry Miscellany. Used by permission of the author.