“The Burial Begins Slow” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

The burial begins slow, carrying up the earth over the barrow for the devils, each in turn highing their breath and turning over the gravel, staring down into the ditch to know how deep they’ve come, inside the earth, and in their bodies.

When we climb the cliff and look down into it, we don’t know how it is we came to be there—obviously we came up, but what up is, and what down is, and who we are, in between these two things, is unknown. Of course there are many guesses. You have heard so many of them. And we will count them too:  they are necessary. They are things we must know.

In the digging there is a turning, like the turning of your mind over a rock, or canyon, your hand over a woman’s thigh, words against her ear, as the aging aegis of the rock of the earth shudders in its brightness, stones and regents turning in their hair to hear:

The colors change in every minute, like the colors in the eye, and in the canyon. The colors of the territory we call internal, which we can see into, but only so far, another canyon. Looking in and up and out and down, in the shift between these views we don’t come to know it, only its resemblances, of how alike we are to it, in our smallness before the grave in every moment.

Really it is a disinterment then, but not by government order. Like a wake we wash the corpse slow with rains and I stand in the shower under the skylight, to forget. Awake and forget.

We are parts of this painting, moving slow, as the Nordic warriors are said to be accelerated in their heaven, and Faerie slower down beneath us, we run the machines of our bodies and minds little pigments turning our collars and our throats into the deep rush of the ochre and gamboge, a name that means Cambodia, from its ancestor Kambu. The name may mean conch shell, or air. Or it may be a kind of Tamil grain. It may also be the name Cambyses, Achaemaenid ruler of ancient Persia. Colors like gangs stand slow against the wall, painting it.

I should tell you so many other things, but I don’t know how to. Let me be red instead, half ochre and half crimson, like a boar bled out into the desert and become the hillside, a thousand miles before a lake, the long crash of a spaceship, on its final journey down. Still they visit, shadows on the pearl of the sky.

You are a pearl too, steeped within the clammy depths of the conch shell, yellow and vermillion ocean of your face dimpled before the dawns we create upon our easel. 

My painter, like the man Queen Victoria come to visit our Virginia Woolf at her seaside, the Lake District come to Cornwall, both dyed blue like Scots for a war against reality, against all we have ever known, ever since we came—

My painter . . . hear me the light, dimpled in your cheek. Carry me, slow, down into the canyon where they have raised the water onto their shoulders and then back up, towards the temple, a thousand years before it was blasted into ash, here in Arizona. We have in the Grand Canyon a mountain named Solomon’s Temple, did you know?  His name meant peace. I do not know why he lost it. Perhaps it is still here, after all. 

Babylon is close too. Here in the New World that is the Old. I am a king who forgot he is from a line of kings, even as you are. Ruling our great country that stretches on forever. Let me send you this, a token of my affection, from my kingdom, a region that extends from my door up into the mountain.

I have been unwell but it has been good to be so;  it has given me time to think.  I have been dreaming that I was in prison and am often reminded in waking it is so—but I suspect I am going to escape.

I promise I will write again, even if I do not escape. Or maybe this is the escape, in writing to you. Probably that is part of what I mean. Because I saw you there too, in the canyon, whoever you are. In whatever time, past or future, or present. Do you know what kingship consists of? King is a verb:  kin-ing. The process of making family. And then the ship, whether air or sea, how we come and go together. 

Here in the valley I salute you and we can exchange weapons. I will hold up my knife and show it to you, and give it you, as I give you my time, however much of it you need. Let it be very much time, so that we can do more painting.

Almost it as though you are my brother, who died when he was still inside my mother. Bearing is what I need, you see, that work of kin. Beginning, and direction. Like a sighting over the mountain, onto a stone calendar. A launchpad. And carrying too:  I am asking for help, with the load. To bear it to wherever you want to go.


Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming in 1979. You can read more of his work at www.robindunn.com.

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