I hope to create a gallery of such art. These pieces tell us a lot about who we are and what we believe about death. I invite your contributions.
EASTER SUNDAY, 1955
What are we? What have we become?
Light fills the picture, the rising sun,
the three of us advancing, dreamlike,
up the steps of my grandparents’ house on Oak Street.
My mother and father, still young, swing me
lightly up the steps, as if I weighed nothing.
From the shadows, my brother and sister watch,
waiting their turn, years away from being born.
Now my aunts and uncles and cousins
gather on the shaded porch of generation,
big enough for everyone. No one has died yet.
No vows have been broken. No words spoken
that can never be taken back, never forgotten.
I have a basket of eggs my mother and I dyed yesterday.
I ask my grandmother to choose one, just one,
and she takes me up—O hold me close!—
her cancer not yet diagnosed. I bury my face
in soft flesh, the soft folds of her Easter dress,
breathing her in, wanting to stay forever where I am.
Her death will be long and slow, she will beg
to be let go, and I will find myself, too quickly,
in the there-and-now moment of my fortieth year.
It’s spring again. Easter. Now my daughter steps
into the light, her basket of eggs bright, so bright.
One, choose one, I hear her say, her face upturned
to mine, innocent of outcome. Beautiful child,
how thoughtlessly we enter the world!
How free we are, how bound, put here in love’s name
—death’s, too—to be happy if we can.
— Elizabeth Spires
A READING FROM Pilgrim At Tinker Creek
BY Annie Dillard
I wonder how long it would take you to notice the regular recurrence of the seasons if you were the first person on earth. What would it be like to live in open-ended time broken only by days and nights? You could say, “it’s cold again; it was cold before,” but you couldn’t make the key connection and say “it was cold this time last year,” because the notion of “year” is precisely the one you lack. Assuming that you hadn’t yet noticed any orderly progression of heavenly bodies how long would you have to live on earth before you could feel with any assurance that any one particular long period of cold would, in fact, end? “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease”: God makes this guarantee very early in Genesis to a people whose fears on this point had perhaps not been completely allayed.
It must have been fantastically important at the real beginnings of human culture, to conserve and relay this vital seasonal information, so that the people could anticipate dry or cold seasons, and not huddle on some November rock hoping pathetically that spring was just around the corner. We still very much stress the simple fact of four seasons to schoolchildren; even the most modern of modern teachers will still muster some seasonal chitchat and set the kids to making paper pumpkins or tulips for the walls.
But there is always unseasonable weather. What we think of the weather and behavior of life on the planet at any given season is really all a matter of statistical probabilities; at any given point, anything might happen. There is a bit of every season in each season. Green plants–diciduous green leaves– grow everywhere, all winter long, and small shoots come up pale and new in every season. Leaves die on the tree in May, turn brown, and fall into the creek. The calendar, the weather, and the behavior of wild creatures have the slimmest of connections. Everything overlaps smoothly for only a few weeks each season, and then it all tangles up again.
Time is the continuous loop, the snake skin with scales endlessly overlapping without beginning or end, or time is an ascending spiral if you will, like a child’s Slinky. Of course we have no idea which arc on the loop is our time, let alone where the loop itself is, so to speak, or down whose lofty flight of stairs the Slinky so uncannily walks.
I had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling
high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit
narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer.
I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Bear downward staring. I said, “My dear bird, we are wasting
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.” But how
beautiful he looked, gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the
sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that
beak and become part of him, to share those wing and
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment;
What a life after death.
— Robinson Jeffers