by Claire Donato
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2013
104 pages / $14.00 buy from Tarpaulin Sky
1. For reasons both Biblical and practical, we must “let go the dead.” But “persons never completely let go the dead.”
2. The main characters of Donato’s debut never leave the side of the dead. Father, dead, belongs here. The unnamed woman is describing as checking-in to the morgue. She’s there to stay, also, for a while.
3. Burial is concerned with the strangeness of death, something lost in its ubiquity, until we see it close. At another funeral near the start of the book, the congregation is described as “yawning, unable to recognize the weight of the ghost.” Mouths open, they might as well have been singing.
4. Donato’s heavy usage of commas, in the vein of Peter Markus (We Make Mud) and William Gass (“The Pedersen Kid”) before her, is almost a way of stalling all death.
5. Father is dead. His capitalized self stands like a tree amongst the brush of other words.
6. “Father was a man. He taught lessons in his language, and also raised his voice. ‘A lovely day to go fishing,’ he said. ‘The water is frozen,’ he said. Then he drowned in the lake.”
7. Burial is a grief-dream, an attempt to un-sew pain from experience and to reveal it in language.
8. “Mind’s a confused, tangled skein.” Particularly when it is pulled by pain.
9. “And the doe—the poor, female doe—collapsed at the scene. Two cracks rang out. He shot her. He shot her dead. ‘A lovely day to go fishing,’ he said, yet before he could indulge in his reward—field dress the damn deer and pay tribute to his success, his all-time best, grand aptitude for chase—he drowned in the lake.” Father’s final moments return, as grief does, often in different permutations. What’s the point of language if it can’t unmake and remake?
10. There is the woman, and Father, and Groundskeeper, who “kneels beside her bright yellow bucket,” and is the keeper and cleaner of these dead.
11. The woman does not belong here. And yet, she thinks “The morgue is a comfortable place.” She knows its linens and towels and desks and menus and phone books and Bibles and its “long” corridors.
12. The mourner is trapped in her grief, and this morgue is her new home. She is there with Father.
13. Talk shows reel across screens, and the woman imagines a world Kubrick would appreciate: “Three persons wearing pantsuits look the same, eating around a table piled with lox, smoked fish the morgue serves before dinner.” This is more Eyes Wide Shut than The Shining.
14. Though trapped, perhaps willingly so, the woman “floats through grief.” It is an appropriate verb. When a body passes, the bodies that remain lose their own form.
15. Groundskeeper offers the woman little solace, but some wisdom. She’s seen this before; she knows there are more deaths to come.
16. Despite the time at the morgue, the typical events of death still occur: wake, funeral. So there are two levels of this grief.
17. “How does one frame death?”
18. “What, you may ask, is the lesson of death?”
19. “‘I’m going to teach you a lesson,’ his dead mouth says.”
20. There must be a lesson. What a waste if there were none
21. We bury as part of the ritual of death, but also to put those no-longer-bodies out of sight. The horror of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is Addie’s body bounding in that wagon, falling into a river. She was dead before she died, hollow, wood.
22. At least the Bundrens had the open-air. Donato gives her characters no escape, no breath, which the reader feels. This novella asphyxiates.
23. Donato slows her prose to show the casket’s descent. The motion is necessarily mechanical.
24. In contrast to the lowering casket, “One funeral goer falls onto her knees, falls into blindsight and chokes up a necklace.” Death is strange. Remember that.
25. “What is the lesson?”