Feels like it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned THE SANDMAN. Blame it on trying to get my hands on so much new poetry and even some novels but it doesn’t matter how far I stray, Gaiman’s masterpiece is never far from my head.
Take for example, “Cerements” the pen-ultimate story in the Inn at World’s End series. This one story is actually six stories all put into one and is probably the textbook definition of compartmentalizing stories. And the part where the young apprentice recalls the five ways to properly dispose of a body has never left me from the moment I read it.
This poem is a companion piece to the short story I recently wrote where a young Bronx boy is wondering why there is so much construction on his block. Both the poem and the fiction share the same title and they both come out of a phone call from my father a few weeks back, “Ok, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to write a poem about how the streets are paved, dug up and repaved. Ok? Get to it.”
â€œIf you read the newspapers the right way, youâ€™ll find people invent new ways to die every day.
The most common one isnâ€™t in the papers: neglect. Most people donâ€™t ever get to see their names in print.
Iâ€™m telling you this because you are still young which means you donâ€™t think it will happen to you but I can bring you to a cemetery full of people who never thought it would happen to them.
Iâ€™m telling you this because we canâ€™t choose our death any more than we can choose our lives.
All we can really do is work hard enough towards a proper burial.
Variants are boxed, wrapped or naked; embalmed or otherwise; lying, seated or standing; grave, sepulcher, vault or cairn.
â€œBefore you drink up, always spill a little on the sidewalk first. You never know where someone died.
All concrete is one headstone for the City.
2. Disposal through fire
Variants: Clothed, boxed, pyre, vessel or ship. Different procedures adopted to dispose of the ashes.
â€œMy sister, your aunt, they say she died in her sleep. I know she died in flames.
They say she went quiet and in dreams. I know she went out cursing the heat.
They say she never felt a thing. I know her skin charred in the blue light.
They say she went straight to heaven. I know she had to swim through hell first.
Variants: Salting, mineral baths, dehydration, pitch and bitumen.
â€œEl Gordo Pepe ate himself to death. A steady diet of lazy cash and late bills mixed with bad women he called wife too often and good women he never called at all.
4. Disposal through water
Variants include feeding to water-animals or fish; disposal in sacred river or sea; boxing, bagging with rocks.
â€œI can never fix that damn leak. The rust by the drain reminds me of your aunt.
5. Air burial
Variants include dismemberment and otherwise; ingestion by raptors or scavengers; complete or partial disposal.
â€œPigeons donâ€™t leave their young unguarded. They feed their chicks in secret until they grow to adult size. I wish I could protect you in the same way.
â€œThe streets are constantly torn up. From one day to the next, you never know what condition youâ€™ll find the neighborhood in.
Why does the City do that? Why the need to tear away all the layers of pavement?
You should write a poem about that.
* Descriptions of bodily disposal and their variants come from The Sandman #55 â€œCerementsâ€ by Neil Gaiman