Dead things surround us: The mosquito squished on the windshield. The tomato that rots in the fridge. This morning’s mouse stuck fast on a glue trap.
OK, the mouse was only half-dead and still squirmy. But you get the gist.
The dead thing that haunted my boyfriend and I most recently was stuck to the dog. No, the dog didn’t come rambling in the house with a cow carcass plastered on his back. But he sure smelled like he did. He evidently did one of his infamous rollicks with a dead thing. Our theory for his latest romp is the dog was seeking revenge for his recent bath with citrus delight shampoo. In any event, the odor lingered like the vinegar I once dropped in a Brooklyn hallway or the bangs I once singed when I lit a cigarette.
It’s that same attraction that hits poets to write about death that makes dogs roll around in it.
Poets aren’t the only ones who touch on the deceased. A writing mentor I once had always advised the best way to start a story was with a dead body. After all, his mystery novels usually did and he was a good enough writer to get hate mail when he killed off his main character. Although I doubt the professor very much expected — or appreciated — getting 25 stories handed in for an assignment which began with: “A corpse was strewn in the hall.”
My grandma found a dead body in the woods. She had been mushroom hunting and saw the dead dude by an overpass, because they are normally found by an overpass. Perhaps her find was not due to an innate attraction for the living to seek out the dead, but it sure made for fascinating dinner conversation while we chowed down on the mushrooms.
So what is our fascination with death? It must be so intriguing because it’s so unknown. One highly researched theory from Mesopotamia says to look to the Egyptians. They mummified with the assurance we would move on to a much better world with a fine collection of earthern pots. A big rumor kicking around is we burst into a whole new realm of existence, a sparkly one in which we fret not about weight, height or if someone ate all the cottage cheese without telling us. One kooky poet who recently moved from New York to New Mexico even called it: “that perfection that finds us in death.” Either that or we come back as a goat.
Death, too, is a reminder that we’d better live in the moment — carpe diem! — buy expensive, needless things and open doors for people.
We went to the funeral of my boyfriend’s best friend last week. The man was 40 and it came out of nowhere. My boyfriend had done his first tattoo on the guy and just spoke to him the other day finalizing plans for Richard to come to Tucumcari for another tattoo.
The season is also moving toward dead. Living in New York, I was convinced winter only came to give residents a respite from the hot, reeking stench of summer. But now I see a crisp breeze even licks New Mexico. Trees shed their leaves, squirrels hovel in holes and all that other poetic stuff (although I haven’t seen many squirrels since I’ve moved here). Winter, they say, is a time to regenerate, perhaps like morning meditation but with frost. It’s also a time to cuddle close under fleece with the living, playing with expensive, needless things and eating cottage cheese.
Ryn Gargulinski writes for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. Contact her at 505-461-1952 or by e-mail:
This column was written in honor of Richard Salas (1965-2005).