Pensive Prowler #2 by Dmetri Kakmi
Death Takes a Holiday
Take death for instance. It’s pretty final. Six feet under or a crematorium. Food for worms or grey ash, scattered to the winds. There’s no coming back from that. Though some threaten to return and eat brains, none have actually kept their promise. We’re still waiting.
In Australia there’s a death every three minutes and twenty seconds, and a birth every one minute and forty-four seconds. I’m not clever enough to do the math, but even I know that’s a lot of coming and going, given there’s 8760 hours in a year. Life, it seems, is a conveyor belt, shunting some on and others off. Babies come out of the great unknown and the infirm fall into a greater abyss, never to be seen or heard of again. Unless of course they had the good fortune to be caught on film or a sound recording; and even then it’s like encountering a phantom in the dark.
That’s how I felt the other night while watching Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. Most if not all the cast and crew that took part in the making of the spectacle are gone. They do not exist any more. Yet there they are, on the TV screen, shooting each other, making love and wearing huge shoulder pads. Though not always at the same time.
The wonder of it is they seem so vital and alive, as if nothing can touch them. The truth is they’re ghost caught in a loop, saying the same things and repeating the same actions for all time. A kind of purgatory ensnares them and won’t let go. And yet what pleasure they give us, these slaves to fantasies and entertainment.
You will agree that some days it seems the good depart and the arseholes remain.
In that regard, 2016 has been an annus horribilis. (That’s not an unsightly anus, by the way. It’s Latin for “horrible year”.) Surely it’s no coincidence that many luminaries died the same year Tramp and Melanoma moved their collective baggage into Casa Rococo, as the White House will be known hence forth. Here’s a list of the dead: George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Tony Abbott, Pauline Hanson, Robert Mugabe, Reccep Tayip Erdogan, Gina Rinehart, Rupert Murdoch—
Oops, sorry, that’s my wish list. Silly me.
Here’s the real list: David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Harper Lee, Mohammad Ali, Alan Rickman, Steve Strange, Pete Burns. Gone. And they’re just some of my favourites, the tip of a fathomless iceberg.
These individuals may be gone but they’re not forgotten. In death they are transfigured and become more than the sum total of themselves. Not in some icky religious way but in a purely earthly, organic fashion, turned from one thing to another.
When Prince died, for instance, I was so shocked I could barely speak. Yet when I pulled myself together, I thought no, he has turned into something else. The dust of his bones will one day push up dwarf iris and anemone, jacaranda and wisteria; his atoms will disperse and fall to earth in a purple rain one fine spring morning. That’s how it is with people who contribute to the betterment of humanity in one way or another.
When a famous person we admire dies we are shocked and astounded. It’s hard to believe it could happen. In the deepest, irrational part of our being we think that fame and talent confer immortality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Like everybody else, the luminary’s presence on earth is fugitive. They are comets shooting bright across the firmament and burning themselves out in the blink of the cosmic eye. The thing that gives me hope is that they leave behind an essence, a resplendent effulgence that permeates our being and lights up the world long after they are gone. Their transfigurement, should we be open to it, transforms us. And in the process we all leave the world a slightly better place than we found it. The same can’t be said about those who make it their mission to spread cretinism as if it’s going out of fashion.
Ovid devoted an entire book to the power of Metamorphoses. It’s still one of the great dark fantasy works.
But I believe Shakespeare’s sprite Ariel says it best when she sings,
Full fathom five thy father lies;
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.