The Californian Book of the Dead
I’m scared, so I’m writing this book of the dead,
a last testament, like James Kidd, Arizona prospector
mining the edge of Superstition Wilderness,
maybe murdered in Haunted Canyon for his gold,
whose will left his half million to research the spirit
because “I think in time we will photograph the soul
leaving the human at death.” Perhaps we will, or perhaps
there’s no will left when the body, sleeplike, settles
and the mind breaches, and the last neurons flaring in a final
visionary chain try to understand the storm wind ripping us
from our bodies, the million tiny Buddhas crawling down
the eyelids, white buddhas, red buddhas, blue and yellow.
The teenager daydreams super powers, walking invisible
into the girls’ locker room and bank vaults, a super punch
that sends the football jocks sprawling, but doesn’t dream
of the body’s simplest power—the power to stop.
The body has its own will, and so I leave this testament.
Crack wide the doors of the sky, let my spirit leap
into heaven like a grasshopper, let me float among the stars
and eat the gods, and when I stand before the lords of death
I’ll testify that I leapt from the pit of dreams each morning
and tried to live my life awake, that I gave twenty dollars
to the woman by the freeway entrance with the Homeless
and Humiliated sign while the red truck honked behind me,
that I bowed my head and dug with my tongue
between my lover’s legs, that I mined that cave
and the gold for me was the pleasure she felt, but I did not
sleep with that woman at the French bistro who was so bored
of her husband and her little girls. I lived the best I could.
And if the mind breaks down in death, and the last neuron
fires in darkness like a sun snuffed out in a dying galaxy,
and if I wander for a while alone and find no god,
no rat, no earthworm, no butterfly of the spirit realm,
then let this be my superpower, the ability to speak
without breath, to write without fingers, to streak like
a meteorite across a black screen, and to go on and on
without will or consciousness, just these dead words
dancing before your eyes, a toy skeleton on a string.
From Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014) by Tony Barnstone. Copyright © 2014 by Tony Barnstone. Used with the permission of the author.