for Kathe Koja
Call them corpse candles,
or noctilucent lanterns,
humans burn hot as carbon-arcs,
incandesce into calcium's lime-light,
scintillate phosphorescent self-generation
at 1800 degrees Fahrenheit
in under 2 hours.
After a few hours the heat
shimmers into being,
ignites ignis fatuus
flame-thrown fata morganas,
& Radiant Boys.
I punch fists into sockets
& love the sensation
-- the retinal excitation
when eyeballs are pressed
with the ball of a thumb
through closed lids
-- the way it changes
the physiopathology of light
The scientific study
of the behavior of light
is called optics, but
in Quaker doctrine, The Light is
that divine presence in each person
-- so what does it mean
that Debbie Boone once postulated:
you light up my life ....
Newton understood light
as composed of corpuscules
exuded from luminous bodies.
As I understand it, Romans practiced Crematio,
a punishment reserved
for deserters, counterfeiters, & arsonists
Law specified the guilty must burn alive
become combustible Catherine Wheels
-- the aboriginal Roman Candle.
Saint Paul, a Roman citizen, believed
it was better to marry than to burn,
We don't get many couples --
well, once -- a woman requested
that her urn be placed amid what remained
in her long dead husband's coffin.
True love, that. How I love my work.
It is not the etiology
of electromagnetic radiation
that appeals to me
-- not even the psychopathy
of a statement like: let there be light.
It's the intention
inherent in incineration -
the purifying properties of fire,
my desire to light the way for the dead.
Do you think Tomás de Torquemada knew?
Do you believe an auto-da-fé was his way
of lighting heretics through the darkness?
I don't know....
I don't know much about luminous flux
-- the rate of flow of light per unit of time.
I cannot calculate the refractive index
-- the ratio of the speed of light in a vacuum
to the speed of light in a medium under consideration,
but I do know the average human cremains
weigh approximately nine pounds.
They are processed into fine particles
then placed in a container.
The entire process takes
about three hours.
For eight hours each night
I keep the lights burning
burning the midnight oil:
amber, copal, myrrh
a florescence of resins
- prayer smoke set alight
to soothe my olfactory perceptions.
Once, I pushed camphor
soaked cotton balls
deep into my nostrils,
but they gave me headaches,
& seemed to make me photosensitive.
Besides, the Director claimed
it showed a certain insensitivity,
& anyway, he couldn't smell a thing.
Most nights it's reading:
palms, Tarot, the pyromantic
messages found in the flames.
I pry open each cadaver's hand.
check their life-line against my own;
my fingers climb the seven mounts,
twist along each wristlet.
then I set my mouth upon the table,
right in the middle
where all four lines intersect.
I'll lay out three cards
for every one of them
Rods are good --
provide vision in dim light;
coins are even better --
they activate color, illuminate
the neural pathways.
I stuff a card into
the lucky stiff's mouth
before I pull the lever.
I remove Judgment
from every deck.
The laws of Resurrection
don't apply here.
Only bodies harvested
from the ground
will rise at the last trump.
My mother told me once that she feared
for my immortal soul -- that ashes to ashes
did not mean what I thought it did;
that god did not feast
on fat & fumes --
did not flare his nostrils
at the perfume of human
flesh flash-fried ....
Fear of the Lord is the beginning
of knowledge. Only fools despise
wisdom & discipline.
I do not fear God,
but I am not a fool.
I fear the notion of
the resurrected dead --
-- corpses worming their way
up & out of the earth.
They are immune to the light.
You have to burn them
or they keep coming back.