The Book of the Dead Man (Your Hands)

Marvin Bell - 1937-
Live as if you were already dead.  – Zen admonition



1. About the Dead Man and Your Hands

Mornings, he keeps out the world awhile, the dead man.
The dead man, without looking, believes what you said of the garden.
He knows the color of a rose is the color of a rose is the color.
He sees the early sky lit by a burn toward which we sidle.
He will take care of you, the dead man will do that.
He will wait for your hair to grow back.
He thinks the things you touched are lucky to be yours.
The dead man knows where to be and where not to be, how he survives.
He is aware, at all times, of your place, your dog, your rug, your roof, your chairs and tables.
Here is his own table, from the basement of the “as is” shop.
The dead man is of this old table, he is of his front and back doors, he is of the tea on the burner 
     and the burner, too, he is.
It cannot stop the dead man, that others have caught on.
The dead man at his worst still looks his best.


2. More About the Dead Man and Your Hands

Nights, he lets in the world, the dead man does it, always.
By any late night, he has lost the need to believe.
The dead man plays a nighttime piano, he blows a nighttime horn, he sings more after midnight. 
Dead man's music is nighttime, call it earthly, call it planetary.
The dead man feels the high registers heard by animal ears.
He feels the rumbly pedal note struck by redwoods enlarging and tectonic plates lurching.
What is it about his hands and your hands, is it the absence of certainty?
He has stirred distinctions into a broth, a soup, a stew, a gravy.
You cannot find yes and no, true or false, in a dead man's soup.
So what if they have caught on, the dead man is out front and stays up later.
Hence, when the dead man maketh eyes, he's gotcha.
He'll care for you, now that he's gotcha, and he hath giveth his hand.
He can't talk about the children if you are going to cry.


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.