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Bury the Dead in Marigolds

I am tired of wrapping my lips around the past. It is a dead thing kept alive only by my attention and my tongue.  I cannot tell why I keep worrying it, like the frayed edges of a beloved scarf or a fuzzy memory.  Habit, maybe.  I don't even like the taste of it anymore.  All charcoal and regrets and bitter seeds that make my mouth feel chalky--nothing like the fat marigold head I hold in my hand.

This orange-feathered sun tickles my lifeline and the small little rivers and deviations carved into my palm. The bud smells of clean earth and the naked joy of growing things.  This, I want.  The smell, the taste, the everything covering my body as if it were my second skin.  I want to make my home in this honeyed sweetness when once I never dared to think it possible to hold a living flower without crushing it. 

I know what must be done: I dig a six-foot deep hole in my backyard and go about the business of burying the dead.  Mason jars will make the perfect coffins.  There are too many of them anyway as if I must preserve and hold onto everything I taste in this world. They belong in the earth now, as does the past.

I unscrew each lid of every jar I own until there is a mass of open mouths waiting to be fed.  So I set about stuffing those holes.  I spit the gritty black sludge that has formed between my lips into one jar and the bitter seeds into another.  It feels like the purge will never end, but I keep at it until my mouth is dry but clean and I can taste sunshine in the back of my throat.  

And while I am at it, I comb dead leaves and ugly thoughts from my hair and stuff it into another hungry jar. The dead skin I slough off finds its resting place in yet another jar, though I was afraid not all of it would fit. Nail clippings and self-doubts go next, along with the brittle bones of my ancestors (may they never rise) and the fragments of ghosts they wish I would inherit.  The last three jars are filled with the worn husks of dreams that have outlived their usefulness. 

No more jars, but still so much left to bury.

Prayers for saints—those poems I could never speak for those things I could never be—are cast into the grave along with a bag of sugar and the moth larvae that made their home in the saccharine crystals.  I do not have an altar on which to place sweet skulls and lighted candles—just the earth.  Ofrendas—I don’t have any of those either.  Just things that need to go.  I have no wish to give offerings to spirits that would make me one of them—sad things, unfulfilled things, things that were dead while living.  And here I am breathing.  Here I am changing the story.  I doubt they would ever wish me well, so don’t ask me to beg for their attention.  Don’t ask me to bow down and hold them close—or worse, build an altar in their names.

I’ve never been much for anything that asks me to get down on my knees.

I only trust the marigolds, and so I collect each and every head from my garden and the stash of dried petals from my pantry.  Here is the sunshine that will cleanse my soul.  Here is the heartbeat that will banish the flatline.  But first—I dig.  And dig.  And dig so many other little holes surrounding the grave.  So many other tiny graves for my Mason jars that would not fit in the six-foot-deep abyss where I planted all the things that need forgetting.  My backyard is a cemetery.  It’s full to bursting by the time I’m done with it.  Who knew Mason jars could take up so much space?  Who knew I held on to too much for too long?

Part of me is afraid to fully commit these things to the ground.  I don’t know what I am without my dead skins or my tangled hair or fragments of stories written on scraps of paper which now line the bottom of my dirty tombs. 

Then the marigolds whisper: perhaps you should find outPerhaps you should fill your graves with dirt and life and let those dead things feed the earthGive them to the worms who will be better nourished by the decaying and the dying.  In turn, they will gift you with fertile ground for better things.

The flowers are right, of course.  These things are of no use to me above ground—

—so down they go, into the underworld.

The shovel is my only companion.  Not even a lantern or candle graces my presence.  Some things are best done in the dark.  I make quick work of it, tossing dirt and more regrets on top of the scars I cut into my yard until I can no longer see Mason jar caps or heaps of sugar.  Until there is nothing left but freshly covered graves.

Here I stand with no last rites or final words.  Just a handful of dirt and another of marigolds.  I scattered the dry petals first so that they make a thin veil between the living and the dead.  Then I heap fresh buds upon fresh buds, open flowers upon open flowers, until the disturbed earth is no longer a series of scars but open seams that let the light through.  

I let the golden petals coat my backyard until my hands ache with the letting go and the holding on.  There is only one small flower left (the one I started with), barely emerging from the bud, sitting in the dry-bed of my palm.  The lifelines seem deeper now, but perhaps that is just dark soil bringing them to life.  In any case, I lean against the shovel and admire my work.  

Already, new shoots are emerging from the worm-rot.  Healthy green tendrils spread across the raw landscape like one long hearty Goodbye:

Goodbye to ghosts.  Goodbye to the past.  Goodbye to dead and gone things.  The golden flower is a sweet Hello in my hand, sweeping away any lingering regrets in my final Goodbyes.  My mouth is clean.  My scarred earth is healing.  I have no more energy for bitter seeds or sugared skulls.  Only the feathery seeds of a marigold’s heart. 

Much better to savor the fat orange fruit on the inside of a calendula bud.


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