Symptoms of Earthly Decay

and when my body dies will it pass through hands
to a quiet velvet room, for powdering and stuffing,
and you will find it in the town’s most dignified
house, with burgundy awnings, a manicured lawn
with hidden sprinklers, a classical birdbath
—its fat plastic cherubs frolicking heavenward,

and as the corpse suffers the viewing
muscles dry, come loose from the bone
like nicely-cooked spare ribs…

No, I want to rot away, untended or spruced up
in a second-floor walk-up above a bakery,
till one afternoon the baker has lost
all his customers and comes up to complain
about the odor, but opens the door

to a dusty room, a TV blaring, and a bed,
its white spread stretched neatly, my feet two mountains
pushed up, my head a scraggly coconut, sunk
into the pillow, the mattress, so the mortician can’t pry
me up in one piece (trying, a hollow arm comes off).

They are forced to cremate me, the body wrapped up
in the sheets.  From the ovens the grains
and cinders of me float lazily up the flue, puffed out
the chimney in the late afternoon on a cold autumn day
that feels like Thanksgiving, to descend a mile downwind

on the asphalt-shingle roofs of circa 1952
ranch-style tract houses, their lawns scattered
with molded-plastic toys turned on their sides,
aluminum swingsets where dirty children
tryst on the four-seater, above ground circular pools
covered by tarpaulins sagging with yellow water and last year’s leaves,

and down to the soil clogged with summers of Miracle-Gro,
through layers of cables and gas pipelines, to seep into sewers,
my few small grains carried in mercury and formaldehyde, eggshells and shit
to a nearby creek, to a river, into fish who swim only to die
in bigger rivers through a delta of silt eroded
from a ex-rainforest that was once my other set of lungs, until
in the ocean at last, we glide down the bottom, off the cliff
of the continent, and get caught in the collected sludge, contributed
in this case by New York City, with the poisoned, the dying, the blind sea
life, dead matter in darkness, where we remain forever.

Originally published in Artful Dodge 22/23, 1992.