“I can’t listen to you. I can’t listen to your voice. It’s as though I’d drunk a bottle of anise and fallen asleep wrapped in a quilt of roses. It pulls me along – and I know I’m drowning – but I go on down.”
― Federico Garcia Lorca, Bodas de sangre.
I love the dead because the living spend so much time worrying about them. Plagues come, plagues go; someone flits like a shadow by your open bedroom door; the child of a broken heart discovers a thousand years later that kissing isn’t immoral, degenerate or likely to spread disease. During all that time — you living, you dull creatures — you either worship or fear all those who have gone before you.
“You have to know, sister,” Juan Ramírez de Lucas said, pale and drawn, “you have to know that no one here will show you disrespect. Say what you wish. But will you not sit down? You look very tired.”
The nun — her fingers still smelling of freshly cut ginger, copper, blood — took the offered chair and fixed her eyes upon the one sitting across from her.
“It is this, senior,” she spoke rapidly, lest her courage should freeze in her throat. “He is unhappy. He is in pain. All night long he hears the brute iron and the cocking of rifles. He smells the foul smoke of burning bodies and the shrieking that hides in the throat. It has awakened my dear little dead one.
“When I guarded him with holy water he heard nothing. Back then the fires of the century held no curiosity for him, since the hearts of the living are based upon greed and corruption and hate.
“But one night he came to me, shaking the nail out of his coffin. I awoke but the deviltry had already been done, he was awake, the dear sleep of eternity was stirring. He thought it was his last trump card and he wondered why he was still in his grave. But we talked together and it was not so bad at the first. But, senior, now he is frantic. He is in hell. O, think, think, senior, what it is to have the long sleep of the grave so rudely disturbed? Love? Yes, love called him back from the sleep that he so patiently endured!”
The nun stopped abruptly and caught her breath. Juan Ramírez had listened without change of expression, convinced that he was facing a madwoman. But the travesty wearied him, and involuntarily he stood up as if to leave the room.
“O, senior, not yet! not yet!” panted the nun. “It is of him that I came to speak. He told me that he wished to lie there and listen to the earth and sky and all the secret’s of the sea; so I stopped sprinkling holy water on his grave. But the dead have needs that the living cannot understand; for he, too, your love, is wretched and horror-stricken, senior. He moans and screams. His unmarked grave can never be found. He cannot break out of it. I have heard his frightful word from his grave tonight, senior; I swear it upon the cross.”
Juan Ramírez de Lucas shook from head to foot, staggered from his chair. He was staring at the nun as if she had become the ghost of his dead lover. “You hear him, too?” he gasped.
“He is not at peace, senior. He moans and shrieks in a terrible, smothering way, as if a bony hand were pressing down upon his chest until his ribs crack.”
The young man suddenly recovered himself and dashed from the room. The nun passed her hand across her fevered forehead, as if a terrible dream still remained in the corners of her memory. She stood, facing the door. The living are all cowards when it comes to the great gray shadow that they blithely call death.
I have searched for Hart Crane among the dice of drowned men’s bones. I have wandered Alfacar looking for the fountain of tears. Federico, your body has yet to be discovered. We call the dead back to us but the living have nothing to say.