The Book of the Dead Man (Nothing)

- 1937-
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.

More by Marvin Bell

Mars Being Red

Being red is the color of a white sun where it lingers
on an arm. Color of time lost in sparks, of space lost
inside dance. Red of walks by the railroad in the flush
of youth, while our steps released the squeaks
of shoots reaching for the light. Scarlet of sin, crimson
of fresh blood, ruby and garnet of the jewel bed,
early sunshine, vestiges of the late sun as it turns
green and disappears. Be calm. Do not give in
to the rabid red throat of age. In a red world, imprint
the valentine and blush of romance for the dark.
It has come. You will not be this quick-to-redden
forever. You will be green again, again and again.

The Book of the Dead Man (The Foundry)

Live as if you were already dead.  – Zen admonition



1. About the Dead Man and the Foundry

The dead man hath founded the dead man's foundry.
He acted in the past perfect, he funded it with clean dirt, pure water and the spotless air.
Then he was melted, he was molded, he was poured and shook out.
He was ground and sanded, he was machined to a sweet tolerance.
The dead man took pains to stay alive, this was how.
It was the undersong of the self, the subtext, the no-man's-land's calling.
For the dead man was subterranean to start.
He was the tuber in the sun, the worm warming, the root that stays put.
The dead man became again what he was, he germinated.
It was the foundry of the sun, the foundry of the earth's core, the foundry of the electric
     light and the dry cell.
It was the retrofit energy that did it, the assemblage after dispersion, the kick in the
     pants we call chaos.
We are the children of a hothouse, among orchids that grow in lava. 


2. More About the Dead Man and the Foundry

The foundry of the dead man pops and smolders with re-creation.
It is recreated in the titanic and the miniature, every detail.
Within the dead man, the same fire burns.
The same furnace, the same raw materials that made flesh.
The same red water, the same liquid sinew cooling.
The dead man's foundry has made weapons and ploughshares, and those who use them.
The foundry and the forge, the shapes imprisoned in the molten streams of rough matter,
     these are precursors of the human, too.
The steam escaping from a wounded body is the foundry.
The heat of exhalation, the blush of desire, the red sun under the skin—they are the foundry.
And the high temperature of the ill, and the heat of the first foundry reassembling at its
     source.
If you believe in the reformation of energy, then you believe as well in the dead man.
He is heating up, and what is emotion?

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.