Where We Bury Our Dead by Tyler Dunning

I daydream of a river, a place I have never been, where we bury our dead. The water, crystalline and pure, if ever left alone, lapping waist high at a worshipper’s hips, flavoring, hopefully, a lover’s lips, that later, in the secret of the night, re-dampen with holy moisture to consecrate the ways our bodies breed, worship each other, and whatever gods we pray to. The water, actually polluted and poison death, turning in my mind, turns a yellow sari see-through, the cloth—burnt orange or magenta or cyan or white, holy, like wildflowers seasoning, this crowd blooming to this concrete, with color, and light—clinging to flesh, tanned and brown, golden husk, that skin, a praise to our sun.

Thousands. Thousands line the banks—now buried in buildings, supporting an unstable and artificial bluff, the weight of civilization slowly slipping into the sea. Water to steps to walls to spires to tree lines like clouds billowing to sky reflected in the water where we bury our dead. And trash, on the shore or gleaning over the surface, a veneer really, colored and decrepit, oil, vomit almost, if this was to come from one’s mouth.

I could kiss the lips of each worshipper in that water.

I daydream of a country I have never visited. Of a region I have never wandered. Its ancient appeal wired somewhere in my transmigration: Mecca, to a non-believer in a Christian country who admires Eastern philosophy. A place I was never taught to return: a memory, like dirt in my mind from a former life, and I yearn to garden: marigold, jasmine, lotus. A memory, like humidity bottled in my being, and I want to worship: the cosmic body, the cosmic dance. Yet, it is not the plants that lure me, nor the sacred places. I do not dream of the cuisine or the sorrowful slums. I do not ponder the birthplace of the Buddha; not the political unrest. It is a river. That’s all I dream.

I read the books before the reverie: The Vedas, the Mahabharata, the Code of Manu. I knew the key players: the one with the arms, with the flute, the tongue and blood. The hero, the heroine, the monkey, the fire. The warrior, the chariot driver, a predestined war. By my hands, Krishna says, they are already dead. I took classes and wrote papers, religion, a curious place for the curious to be, taking notes on made-up truth, as if a science for peer review. But you don’t have to tell me there is spirit in animals’ eyes, that there is divine intervention in the perfection of plants. You don’t have to tell me there is wisdom in that water. There’s no proof on the page, in human folly; these things came before. Like a river.

I daydream of it—still, yet moving, and taking its time—like anxiety through an anticipating mind. I daydream of a river that is more than a river, one that isn’t greedy, in drowning, but gives, in redemption. Bodies, as coins in a well—and what they all wish, the dead or living. Loss into water. Or air: how one burns a body, churning matter to ash. A pyre. The smell of wood and golden flesh, that glows at night, near the steps and under those fake bluffs, that sky, reflective, like praise to needling light. Liquid prairie. Brighter than a thousand suns.

By water or air, the dead pollute, wrapped in clothe—burnt orange or magenta or cyan or white, holy, like wildflowers—sent afloat. And how soon the flesh bloats, stretches, tears, and detaches, as stew for the believers to bathe. City dogs, the birds—they feed, pulling and tearing at the new trash, deities in the details. And I want to bathe, my skin pallid from daydreaming indoors, romanticizing the privilege of place, both here and there. I want to offer my doubts, to wish in a famous well, that turns bodies to coins, and coins to trash, and trash back in to being. And I wish my doubts would get carried away so I could start, one day, daydreaming of something a little less distant.

Until then, I daydreaming of a river I have never been to. Of lovers I have never loved. Of tributaries bringing praise from foreign land, of alluvial deposit, of silt and sediment, floodplains, salinity, the source, the beginning, and the estuary, the mouth, the end. Through Devprayag, Kanpur, Calcutta, Sagar Island, those bodies that pollute, kicked out into something bigger than a river on a subcontinent in the Eastern Hemisphere—cosmic bodies of water connecting us all.

I could kiss the mouth of that river. Of every worshipper in it.

And I will, one day, lapping waves to hips, flavoring my lips, thankful for my turn to descend—a wish. That well. This only coin.


BIO: Tyler Dunning grew up in southwestern Montana, having developed a feral curiosity and reflective personality at a young age. This mindset has led him around the world, to nearly all of the U.S. national parks, and to the darker recesses of his own creativity. He’s dabbled in such occupations as professional wrestling, archaeology, social justice advocacy, and academia. At his core he is a writer.