Friday, December 3, 2010


The Book of the Dead Man (The Numbers)

Live as if you were already dead.
—Zen admonition

1. About the Dead Man and the Numbers

The dead man is outside the pale.
The dead man makes space for himself the way a soccer player moves to the place to be next.
The angles shift, the pace slows and picks up, it matters more, then less, then more, then less,
and others run by in both directions.
One of them may slow to stoke the embers of a failing thought.
For example, the dead man restores the poet's ambition to plumb the nature of existence.
Sometimes he, sometimes she, asks the dead man what it is to live as if one were already dead.
It's the feel of an impression in the earth, a volume in space, an airy drift upward.
It's downwind and upwind at the same time.
It's a resonance to wrap one's mind around, like a bandage beneath which the healing may happen.
It's the idea of turf beyond the neighborhood.
It's a cold flame in a hot season.
It's what you do facing the guns.

2. More About the Dead Man and the Numbers

Here we go, with what it takes.
The dead man wakes in a dream, lungs aching as if the night were a stairway or a hill.
Is he indoors or out, an insider in public or an outsider at home?
He hears a splash of tissue in a knee and a click as his shoulder slips the edge of an obstruction.
You would think he thinks himself awake, but the dead man does not.
He has a way of making the ephemeral last, the rusting slow, the leaf hang, the bullet hold up in midair.
In the waking world, there are too many of us to tell, the ushers are overwhelmed by the numbers
wanting a box seat.
The preacher offering a future world, the historian waxing nostalgic, and the dead man underwriting
them is what it takes.
How is it to be the dead man among shifting loyalties?
It means living in the interstices, swimming in the wake of the big boats, crossing the borders on
back roads.
It means taking the field with those whose lives are numbered.
It means finding space for when it will matter.

-Marvin Bell

1 comment:

  1. This is one fantastic poem! The spiritual side of Zombie-dom. Love it!