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The Earth Is Their Ceiling

Monday, 29 July 2013


“It’s mostly bones we’re riding over, anyway.”

It’s 1876. Former Texas Ranger Augustus McRae rides alongside the bastard orphan under his watch, attempting to console him from the seemingly unstoppable wave of death and cruelty he’s witnessed on the open ranges of Texas. The best he can offer the teen is the haunting reminder that untold numbers of animals and humans have passed before them, that their path is and will always be littered with remains.

“My earth is somebody’s ceiling.”

It’s the summer of 2013. The pop chanteuse Sara Bareilles is whispering in my ear about her experience “in a cemetery in the center of Queens.” With the help of Jack Antonoff of fun., she has crafted a sublime and stirring celebration of our mortality. I stagger for breath every time she asks the question, “Can I capture in sound / the weight of the ground?”

"Chasing the Sun" is an ambitious number in an impressive overall effort, and hopefully she'll show Chattanooga a good time when she plays here in a few weeks.

“...wishing we could witness the dead rise up and drink in midnightlife...”

It’s March 1992. A simple and cliched college breakup in December has left me lost in an emotional wilderness, and even into March the experience haunts me, long after I should have recovered. One the eve of Easter, I stumble drunk into Old Chapel Hill Cemetery with the remnants of a six-pack and finish the cheap beer while pondering my own mortality. I sat in the gazebo in the middle of that place and prayed for ghosts to come snap me out of my foolishness, to frighten the life back into me.

Mere minutes after I read that passage from Lonesome Dove, Sara Bareilles’ song from The Blessed Unrest invited itself into my ears, and both opened a sort of portal back to that moment in the Old Chapel Hill Graveyard. The collision and connectedness of timelines is a spiritual experience. These are the moments when we are like birds or ants, when our species shares a language unique to us. To ponder our mortality amongst corpses is as old as life and death itself.

Authors and artists have long sought to capture this synchronicity with varying levels of success, but everyday people have spent untold hours on the same train of thought. Some of them even try writing poems about it.

Easter Morning: In the Rafters
We sat above the raw earth on thin beams,
the gazebo grafted to the middle
of the graveyard, wishing we could witness
the dead rise up and drink in midnightlife.
We even left the last of our cheap beer
resting on the bottom wooden steps
so the crawling mewling first re-borns
could celebrate before they must stand. 
Our small sighs echoed below the shingles,
feed dangling off pulled back into childhood.
We whispered of teeter-totter future lives
and longed to walk forward without moving, 
to weather the erosion of our hours,
scatter our ashes, and wind on with the earth. 

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