epitaph 54

Matthew Vollmer

this stone marks the final resting spot of a man whose grandparents purchased one hundred acres bordering National Forest in southwestern North Carolina, a tract of land where owls and bear and whippoorwills and deer and wild turkey and the lesser seen wild boar roamed, where springs bubbled from mossy folds in the earth, where ferns turned gold in autumn, where streams pulsed with trout and crawfish and water snakes, where trails lead across bridges of hand-hewn wood and through rhododendron thickets that could be twilight-dark at midday and up steep inclines and past rugged boulders scabbed with crisp fungi and through groves of pine trees and along ridge tops where one could gaze westward toward Tennessee and view the mountains retreating into the distance like green-blue waves, and one of these trails passed by a clearing that'd been designated the family cemetery, a place where the deceased's grandfather had first been laid to rest and then after him the deceased's grandmother, both of whom had been granted impressive tombstones—the grandfather a brilliantly white slab of marble indicating the length of his life and his military rank; the grandmother a flat creek rock inscribed with her name, date of birth and death—while the deceased's grandfather's two sisters, on the other hand, had been granted only a couple of blank rocks to mark where their remains had been deposited, a fact that the deceased found troubling, as both aunts—despite the fact that one had been adopted and the other had allegedly been not-so-nice—were family, and it was this obvious disparity between these markers that inspired the deceased to wonder what kind of stone he should have and should he get it ahead of time or should he leave instructions as to what words should be engraved upon it, if only to ensure correct tombstone engraving, or did he even want a stone, why not simply have one's body burned and throw the ashes to the wind, or, supposing he happened to be concerned about one's final ecological footprint, what with the carbon monoxide emissions and a host of other possible contaminants that his burning body would surely emit, maybe he should consider the process of alkaline hydrosis, which dissolves a human body into a fine white powder, and which is unfortunately illegal in most states, despite the fact that cemeteries are overcrowded and that traditional caskets are overpriced and environmentally toxic, and that such practices interfere with the natural breakdown of cellular organisms, and besides, who'd want to have their blood drained and replaced with chemicals, thus allowing their dead body to be transformed by a professional corpse painter into what basically amounted to a morbid doll, a question the deceased would ask periodically, despite the fact that he knew the answer, which was that in many situations this practice provided a great deal of comfort for survivors, for instance, let's say a girl's been raped and her head's been bashed in, but then a mortician puts her back together so that her parents can see her one last time and say goodbye, an example provided by the mortician and poet Thomas Lynch, who penned a memoir about how he believed in the process of making corpses look presentable, an argument the deceased found quite compelling but not ultimately persuasive, since it'd always bothered him to stand before his grandfather's grave and imagine not that the man's dead body had dissolved into the teeming storm of molecules beneath his feet but instead had simply only sort of decomposed, the idea of which would cause the deceased to wonder if his grandfather's casket had been properly sealed, and if so, had that prevented the man's suit from slowly deteriorating and had the preservatives worked, and what would it mean for them to have "worked," and would the deceased's grandmother, who'd died more than two decades after her husband, be a leg up on him decomposition-wise, since she'd gone into her grave—as she'd requested—wrapped in a quilt and placed in a pine box, the foresight of which now reminds the deceased that it might be a good idea to ask if you would be so kind to take the time to inquire if, in fact, his headstone in bears these words, and if his body, which he no longer could be said to inhabit, has been prepared in such a way as to truly be food for worms