A Book of Graves and Memorials

I found this self-help text stored on a mini SD card, the memory I removed from a dead smartphone. Its screen bore a thin spiderweb of cracks spreading from a central point, as if it had been hit with an emergency hammer, one you might find on a bus in a small red box. Once hidden in the bottom drawer of waste phones at my local dump, it is now listed here due to elements of internal interest, but in the end perhaps it should have been left to transfer to a landfill site and decay, six feet down, among the plastic bags, the compact discs, and trays of silver-plated cutlery – is there a difference?

[…] – a grave marker indicates corrupted text.

The Manuscript

[…] to cope with the private nocturnal terrors I began to revel in them, to smile. To clasp my hands as if in prayer, in a simulation of an older time. I mean, it gave me something to do, which helped. And many years afterwards I began to design graves, in another way of coping with certain facts of living. But then, what counts as coping?

That we are not here on a certain future date, does not mean we have no stake in what goes on with the remains of us. Of course there are many views on the function of grief and mourning and their socially emergent ceremonies. This isn’t the place for that. And don’t talk to me about grandiosity – that we are here at all is grandiose enough.

GRAVES – select from the list:

i

Carbonise my body in the cross of flames, seen through the glass in its little hinged door. Make sure the door is charred as the abyss on the inside, so even the brightest fire couldn’t light it up by even a fraction. Then once all is ash and dust you take that ash and dust and sweep it all up with a black dustpan and brush.

[…]

iiii

Cast my body into a brass clapper inscribed as thickly with bodies as Rodin’s gates of hell. Then install me into a giant bell. This bell is to be rung once when humanity achieves the manipulation of gravity. With the crushing peal, all the broken brass limbs and maybe even a charred shoulder-blade will fall out from the bell’s sounding mouth. But they will no longer fall with the necessity of death – they might even float above the marbled mausoleum floor like shadowy fragments of star.

iiiii

Take my body and hang it from the tree’s open mouth. Then dig a deep well underneath. By the neck, the rope will entwine my throat and make connection with the missing voice. My body will resonate with the creakings of the tree as I speak from above the grave with the voice of wood itself. Then I fall finally with the crows, feather-fall into the mouth of the earth, bird call as the final roar echoing from the depths.

iiiii i

It’s a club. Under the sound of the heart’s sub-bass, pour the dust into hollow cubic lights, seal, and distribute me into shoes, handbags, hair. Make sure I strobe to the beat. Then the dance grows and life patterns death in a euphoria. They will not dance on my grave, because my grave will dance. Mindlessly, and with all the complexity of life the track drops.

iiiii ii

A cage of crystal glass, my body in it, like Snow White, and a vast room so dark that nothing grows except the darkness as the years pass. There is a breeze in here. But where does it come from? Nobody knows*. This mystery, which no one will ever experience, is the refined essence of mystery. In the darkness, the lostness of the past is physical and invisible. And the spiderwebs trail on your face, making you jump. It would be possible even to sit on the smooth surface and never know you are sitting on me. That is the physical, metaphorical – now real in the moment – chasm of the understanding. But would it be better if you knew? x

* One could assume this is why it was important that the overseers of the Gizan pyramids be at least buried within, or ground up and made into bricks. Also they did so little work

iiiii iii

Why do we not make graves representing how we died? For example a lithe Giacomettian mushroom cloud is an arresting thought. If I die of cancer, then my grave will replicate out of control until it stands between all other graves and flattens nuance into a darkness ending the graveyard.

iiiii iiii

The room I convalesced in. Unchanged. Musty and dark, the urn hidden. Or the ash rubbed into the pillows and duvet. Listen, it might feel a bit weird being in there. Just know I am there with you, eyes closed under the sheets, or just lying on the floor. When you sigh, we will be closest as the dust shifts with your breath.

iiiii iiiii

Sprinkle the dust of my body into a desktop tower as a benediction and monument. The random interaction of small silicates will result in a sparse event of remembrance as passing users experience the blue/blank screen of death. But, like all generalisations except one* it will only seem to be the same for different individuals (or rather, this solidarity will make us ignore particulars.) The dust labyrinth is too deep for human thought, and the past is as unreachable as the dirt six feet beneath your feet.

* The on/off distinction

Fuck death, death can fuck right off. It’s not fair. How dare it? How dare things do this? How dare they disrespect us?

[…]

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ii

When all is finished, you will walk into the vast cathedral space, hear the ancient wavelengths of wire twisting and being plucked by the wind. My heart’s stone sarcophagus hangs there, in the centre, under the dome. Its pulse; the proof of all the circulations and rhythms of the earth, as it swings, proof of the earth’s spherical rotation, the earth itself pendulum of fate’s manic braiding.

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iii

A cold bed. Here I will sleep for an age, slowly decaying in material, but not structure. So slow that my days are part rotations of the galaxy. So soft that the whispering and buzzing of electricity is a high pitched whine heard in my bones. Then, when all technology has jumped up to the level of resurrection, and its out of control protocols are keeping everything alive, the rotten trees, the dirt itself, the virus, the gloam bacteria, the sun forever on the edge of dying, then I will thaw and wake, and an entire world in its undeath will be my living grave.

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iiii

Place my body in a giant glass biosphere with one oak tree sapling in the packed dirt. As it grows, and my body sags to the mossy earth, as it feeds on my nutrients, more and more of the tree will be me, and vice versa. When the ripe crop of leaves falls one autumn, crack open the glass and collect them, along with my yellowed bones. Then lay them in an oak coffin, made from that very tree – admiring the pure oranges, pale yellows, woven browns for a while.

[…]

iiiii iiiii
iiiii i

A coffin, carved with symbology from weathered driftwood. The tall dark figure with the scythe walks among all the figures from history, the jackal headed god, the white whale, the dark lord Sauron, in a meta-dance of death. The death of all deaths is there, and the death of rats, and then in a garish uppercase font, write with red rhinestones the following phrase across the face of the coffin: ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SI-

[…]

iiiii iiiii
iiiii iii

Hew a stone from the earth. Transport it hundreds of miles, and upon arrival polish it so it shines and could be used as a rudimentary mirror. Take gold leaf or a substitute, and after carving the face of the rock with a small phrase, and dates of birth and death, gild the letters.

Now all this shine, let it rest by the fresh earth, which may just be its absolute opposite. The body, the darkness, the opacity, and the light, in a rough approximation of life. This shall be the grave. Repeat.

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iiiii iiii

A grey stone statue of me in a foetal position, but with a small water feature – tears run from my eyes forever and pool around my head. If realised properly, the tears will begin to carve small canals into my face. Face which is smiling? Or is it slightly sad?

Oh god why why why am I here why would you do this to my friends, my family. Me? What did we do to displease the universe? As if existing things displease the universe, and it does its best to get them in the end. As if displeasing something causes it to want to do anything to you. This sadness is still a self-importance. This is a self-important answer. Because the self is important?

[…]

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i

Make me a grave. Due to overpopulation* the rent on burial ground is through the roof, let me tell you. So cremate me. But then hypercompress the ash into small black pearls, so that I can be worn as a necklace, or displayed on a mantelpiece (you should be so lucky to have a mantelpiece…) One by one, you can burn them again in the fire, on a day when it all seems too much. Then they will unlace and crack like planets being destroyed in a sci-fi movie.

[…]

* So they say, but of course it’s more to do with custom and distances and our economic system which is become the pre-emptive grave of all human feeling...

iiiii iiiii
iiiii iiiii
iii

Build a pub, with oak bar, with blood red carpets, with the amber ale in questionable tankards. Fill it full of ancient cigarette smell, craft it from the memories and perspectives of my childhood, recovered through last minute scans of the connectome. It should feel… bad. Those kinds of smells are to do with the adults and their stale oddities, habits*. Then, surprising in the dark corner, preserve my body in a gigeresque monument of pipes and piped glass tanks, bubbling and whirring and hunched over a table, clutching an empty glass, my pale white flesh just visible through the fogged liquid. No one can drink here without disquiet. My revenge

*Isn’t it all…

[…]

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iiiii

Is it possible to turn bones into paper? If so, open a great white field for the pen’s plough. And each letter described and corrected a thousand times in half as many drafts, each letter with its final full stop or black signature. Such paper would have all the longevity of a skeleton, and folded with gilding into thin envelopes it would create quite the impact when it broke through the letter box and clattered to the floor. Each line would be a scar, and this is perhaps the problem – it would be hard to finish reading such a letter, no matter how many times one were to read it. And so, make sure there is a lesson, there is an edification, a smile, in every line.

[…]

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iiiii ii

This grave is the reconstituted body made into a group of cats, along with piles of string and treats. So that when they play, the memorialisers heal through the variations of one’s own self, meowing, purring.

Or maybe the coffin at the funeral is a decoy, and when people get close enough to touch it, it opens and several kittens are found inside.

iiiii iiiii
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iiiii iii

A short line on a flat plane, with vectors swirling randomly until they coalesce in a magnetic field around it, and after a while they slow and decay until they move on to other regions, perhaps other fields. As the short lines become more numerous, the vectors become less so (each vector being an eventual line on its own plane). In your imagination this was taking place in a conceptual space with black arrows and white expanses; now, grass begins to grow in that whiteness, to flower with all the attendant earthy smell, and dandelion clocks are blown with the arrow-vectors like spiderwebs in the wind.

* Is this what heaven looks like?

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iiiii iiiii
iiiii iiii

Imagine the real encounter with death to begin here – enough with these conceptual games. The concrete juts out and the text crashes and tears. Investigate the site of the accident. Is it not, after all, just one gravestone among others in a well tended, then by turns less tended field? The rest burns away as inconsequential. But we all encounter our death each day, every moment, as we dwell with it. As a renewal, or an absolute disavowal*. Whatever it is, it is a gap. But sometimes we roll over it without stopping. I mean, why bother?

* or, as when any two terms are given as a dis-junction in ordinary language, it could be many other things.

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iiiii iiiii

When antibiotic resistance reaches its apex, the dull mechanisms of evolution will have carved another dead end, as tiny predators starve through lack of prey. Is it possible to create a symbolic graveyard, an opposite to this phenomenon – each grave being the bed of the subsequent oldest human, and as the lifespans rise, and this graveyard completes, the human reptilian jellyfish have arrived in a spectacular explosion of holistic intelligence. At that precise moment this graveyard will become the graveyard of all graveyards, resting place and tombstone of natural death itself, and the human.

But has anything changed? That is the final conundrum – but that pure absence will be a concrete memorial with a timeless span.

If I were to die at this moment, it would mean just as much as any other. What this means is that god has no memory – in fact no-one is even thinking of me now. This is the individual answer. It is the wrong answer. Rise, rise, to herd life as the sun breaks over the mountain, reach beyond, reach to the grasping fingers of the other who reaches for you. They reach for you

[…]

iiiii iiiii
iiiii iiiii
iiiii iiiii
ii

Sometimes the belief manifests the event that otherwise may not come to pass. The rarity of flight in a life manifests fear, despite constant reassurances that it is not something we should be afraid of. Death, too, has this effect. If we do not believe we will survive, sometimes this leads to that outcome. We call it self-fulfilling prophecy. But why not subvert this? I will sit in a field, under an oak tree, with my sound system, until I am joined by others who come to wonder at the music. I sit there longer and longer, and so life and the village grow around me. Each day, sitting under the tree with my books, reading, and carving a gravestone. On the last days, gravestone finished, I will wait. But when I die, you will remove any trace of the stone, the tree and the music, just leaving the new festival, while no one is looking.

iiiii iiiii
iiiii iiiii
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iii

Cresting the rugged path, scattered with mountain scree, and under the shadow of the olive trees, you come upon an open square. Under the peak’s shifting shadows, this cream stone courtyard seems to arrive as if the house around it simply fell away. In the centre, a simple square stone stands, dappled with sun and in a pink marble, unfinished. No markings other than this – a few drops of my sweat were dripped here years and memories ago. The cool breeze blows fallen leaves out into the valley, as climbers pass on to higher views.

[…]

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iiiii iiiii
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iiiii

A virtual grave, a representation of blistering rock mountains, pine forests, the aurora borealis, and all the cut stars and the deep moon herself. You may take a seat on the old Draugr-sarcophagus in the centre, feeling the snow land on your palms. Then plays the song ‘Wind Guide You’ from the popular videogame ‘The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’, and as the sound goes from midday walk over sheep-fields to the great operatic mountain storm of the middle section, from a fading day to twilit warm breeze, the storm whips up, with the aid of augmented reality, and you run out across the wide pinnacle of the great dragon, feeling the wind streaming from your cheeks. And know that I would be running there with you, if I could be.

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iiiii i

In a cooled room, a burnt out ice-cream van. Have the gravestone chiseled from crisping ice-cream, in a patchwork of flavour. The good times; vanilla, mint choc chip. The bad times; rum and raisin, sorbet. And a plastic cup of long teaspoons by the door. Each time memorialisers come, the grave will shrink and warp into irregularity. When the licking is done, so too is the mourning, heralded by a dawn of sickly calm. Eventually, the cooling systems will fail, and whatever scrap and saliva is on the floor will melt, and drain away to the far sea, whose frothing peaks caress the melting ice.

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iiiii ii

Impossible advances in the engineering of polarisation result in clear glass that casts a deep shadow. You imagine this possibility in a hallucination of clarity: A graveyard where every tombstone is made of glass. A moment, every year, when the sun hangs in the sky at the exact place – and shadows align in a field of shadows – each precisely over a grave. But from afar the field seems otherwise empty, as it does in the early dawn, and at dusk. We sit on the hill across from the grounds, on a tartan picnic blanket, reading and feeling the sun’s heat, blinking in its light, and dwelling with this invisible shadow*.

* shadow which is not cold, not empty, not to be feared, just is

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iiiii iii

The grave which comes with a new life. If it comes down to the end of things, consider – this end can have many forms. The house, empty except for a note – ‘Do not look for me‘. The grave which is a house on the plains where you live out your days – for a grave need not come with a death. Your new life, radically broken from the old, becomes the grave to the person you once were, who could not abide in that place. But abiding is sometimes possible, if you are willing to strike out into the west*, where the silver ships wait for you. And beyond that metaphoric sea, all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

* if one has means, if one has means, oh lord

GRAVE CODA

A grave draws meaning from those around it. And in any case, the simplest grave anchors more than the most resplendent memorial palace, knowing that the person who is symbolised is the source of all this meaning. This strong meaning which anchors us in turn. The final fact around which all this is hinged is – we make our own graves, always. If we live like a mighty river, if we short circuit the emptinesses in life til they glow blinding – then so will our graves. If we provide solace, and care to the world, so will our graves.

And if we sully the world and hold it as nothing, then our graves too, will be empty, despite the quite significant bone piles. Memento Mori. This we can know. We make our grave the people around us, who we love. Our grave can encompass societies, be placeless, but for a simple forgotten stone. This we can know.

Memorial 1

As time went on, the park benches multiplied and every sight and worthwhile sound was ringed. On each bench several golden plaques, or silver, imprinted with names, phrases, and dates. Because each person loved this place with a quiet, regular love, and all would sit and with the ghost of a quiet moment. Eventually the park dirt buried each, whole or in pieces, and more were built on still higher strata, until the earth was full of love’s repose.

Memorial 2

Here fluent hands and gentle light built a garden within two ovoid halls, themselves resting in the corner of a larger garden. And the lilies float with peace here on a larger, unstable pacific moment. You swim from room to room, smell the pond’s heady aroma and dwell on a lost chance, of the lives under the water, and how the sunset-like tears had built up in the ponds of the artist’s eyes.

Memorial 3

The sun caught the newly born insects shifting and searching the currents of the air, wobbling. And the seeds from the trees drifted down towards the houses, as if they were draped along spiderwebs caught in the wind. And it made space perceivable in a very tactile way, to the extent that moving through it felt like learning to swim again. Distances opened up to seem massive in the sunlight. A magpie flew by, silently. In the house humanity unknowingly became heir to the duty of placing a glass and a card near each window, shepherds of the insects stuck behind shards of air that seem too solid.

[…]

Memorial 5

It doesn’t matter if you disbelieve, the spirit of nature will come upon you one day when you least expect it, like a small purely white butterfly alighting on a fern, in the gully with the falls and the ancient palls of grass. Like a sudden lull in the soft wind, it will come upon you. And you will notice the new spring flowing over the hill-grass. You will tramp across the great bowl of a glacial mountain, and feel the bog reeds crumble beneath you. Then it will leave, and you will stand in the queue for the shower, and realise that the spirit of nature is like a solid ore that runs through your life, you strike it seldom, but each time it leaves a great vein of what is or could be called love for you, like the warm love of the man in the queue behind who suggests to his partner over the phone that they should go see the bold and messy paintings in the town gallery, where they do a coffee, and a bun or something

Memorial 6

Why do I see my dead friend turning up one day while we are packing the house to move, walking out of the garage smiling a knowing smile, as if nothing has happened, as if the time between was nothing to them. And listening to Burns – Edit by George Fitzgerald, we drive through the dales and hills as the voice pulses, each moment another death, another birth, and he smiles at the bright sun that nothing need worry us on that day, the warm day when we stand on top of Almscliffe crag and the world just impacts up into us as if immortal life had fallen from the atmosphere and just now hit the ground and our bodies turn to golden glitter and blow away in the breeze.

Memorial 7

On the winding coastal road you come across me and my family statuesque, sculpted from mountain stone – the sun is setting, the statues frozen running down the rocks in the warm wind, smiling big smiles towards the sea across the scrub foothills. A slight shine to the eye engraves the twinkle of joy. We are so proud of each other. In our hands, stone phones set to selfie mode. And this is love, despite any complications, and makes it all worthwhile

Perhaps acceptance comes, given time. But if we accept the loss of our friends, then we too are lost. Maybe there is the ancient metaphor of light to guide us, which comes to deliver us from time to time, not like rapture, but like a small and welcome parcel dropping on the mat, heard from upstairs. We can only live in hope’s answer. It is the right answer. Getting along with our ends, without end,