The Viewing

The wife spoke to me
by name:
“Thanks so much for coming,
David.” Some didn’t
want to see him. One
wouldn’t even go in. I did.
I touched his hand.
It was as if he were only
sleeping, soft and warm.
I never felt one so
lifelike. They’ve
come a long way.
After a bit,
no one noticed,
I went back.
I touched him
on the hand again. It was
warm, and soft,
still. In August I
spent two weeks picking
blackberries on a New Hampshire
hill. Each berry
heavy and wet, the
size of a fat grape to be
checked for mold, then chucked
into a colander, an old
favorite of bright
yellow plastic, or if
too far gone, into the
tangle underfoot, under a
cloud of flies and
yellowjackets in the hot sun.
My skin all blood and
juice — fingers, wrists,
forearms streaming —
stained purple in a stench
as of a winepress.
A solo wasp
hovered over a sodden
cluster and at last lit down
on the rottenest
berry for a long sip,
then staggered out
over a sagging
leaf, to topple and buzz off
in a tight
Immelmann straight into the
inscrutable
mute raw incandescent
source of it all, only to
return over and over
to the reeking fruit
where in the end
it lay out flat in the
middle of a long red stain
like a naked Jonah
resting in his vine.
Just then there was a
spinning as of, let’s say, an
autogyro
directly overhead,
and for a second there
it looked like Christ Himself
in the cockpit, bareheaded,
sporting green-tinted goggles
amid a nimbus of white flames
glimpsed through a dark
tunnel of vines and leaves
from where I scrambled
on my hands and knees
for cover in the deepest shade.
In the dream called
The Viewing the body’s
still warm, as though
only asleep, maybe even
dreaming of being a
man watching a dead-drunk
wasp in a blackberry
patch on a hillside in
New England, unless
perhaps the actual
viewing was that of a passed-out
hornet dreaming it was a
man, indeed a holy man,
and the action
an audience granted by an ash-smeared
sage in the burning ghats
of the soul’s bridal chamber in the
tremor of delight that is the
foreplay of annihilation;
there’s a billion
starry nights out there.
Who’s the bride?
How come she knows my name?

–David Rattray
 

HalHirshorn-2011-09-27_600

photograph by Hal Hirshorn

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