She was — how can I say this? — burned alive
out on Salem’s green for knowing too much.
She taught me the physics of the beehive,
honey’s craft, and I taught her where to touch
to find her [[Charlie, Lima, India,
Tango]]. She had come from a small convent
in Rome, modeled nude as a madonna.
I knew Mother Superior had sent
her to the New World. How the Puritans
found her, she doesn’t say. When I hold her
I get ash under my nails. But so what?
Love is love and she is randy, her nun’s
hymen not withstanding. This is our hour;
when life trumps death and our love runs riot.
I wonder why a little, why the gods
above me who must be in the know,
think so little of me, they allow you to go.
— Cole Porter
The year before the Shogun banished the foreign missionaries from his lands, sending them back to Portugal, or whatever hell they had once arisen from, something queer happened. Far away in the unfashionable north, in a lonely village called Kawanishi, there lay an old, solitary churchyard. Because the missionaries who built it were hairy barbarians, no one interred in those grounds were ever cremated; there were no family graves, none of the ancestors left behind were remembered, fondly or otherwise. The churchyard’s low, curly grass now fed a few vagabond goats that daily struggled over its ruined walls, it was the sort of grass that hid little gray mice that roamed through the sad wilderness, all bordered over with glum willow trees. The rusty gate, because of course there was one, seldom opened to human touch, but shrieked in pain when the wind sang against its hinges. Only the lost souls, generations of the converted, condemned to wander in that desolate place until some vaguely explained day of reckoning occurred, which was always in the far, far distance, sang with the wind, shaking the tree boughs, wailing at their terrible imprisonment.
In this churchyard there was one grave unlike all the rest. The stone which stood at its head bore no name, even the ones spelled out in the odd Romaji lettering the strangers somehow understood, but instead carried a curious symbol: a plump, crudely carved calla lily, opening up above blood red waves.
The grave was, simply, different, covered with a thick growth of mourning band blossoms. No ordinary woman lay within, it was the grave of a sinful nun.
Not far from the old churchyard a young woman lived with her old husband in a drab, wattled hut. She had been a dreamy, dark-eyed girl growing up, the sort who never played with other children, but instead loved to wander in the sun-kissed fields, lie by the banks of the boggy, soggy rivers, watch the thick water swirl this way and that, laugh with the lilies as they swung their heads on the naked breast of the east wind. As one might expect, she had grown up to become a dreamy, dark-eyed woman, the sort who continued to live a solitary life; for her elderly husband was a wild, wicked man who sat at home and drank all day, cursing the gods into the calm summer nights so that even the poor ghosts, those who were damned to wander in the churchyard under the brow of the hill, shook their shaggy heads sadly at the young woman’s plight.
Often, very often, she would disappear out into the firefly-filled night, or wander the sun-dappled meadows during the day where all her husband’s hideous blasphemies could not reach her, where she could talk with the lilies in a low, affable voice, for they were her friends.
In this wandering way she came to haunt the old churchyard as well, much like the souls of those whom the missionaries had condemned to dwell there. Some of the dead were, understandably, far from pleasant to her, for death does not stop a person from being a tomfool or a hooligan. But most tolerated her as she roamed by their crumbling headstones, tracing her fingers over the foreign words, names that had been long forgotten.
There was one gravestone, though, that she did not like, for the ghost had been a terrible pervert in life and was no better later on. Nasty, old men were nothing new to her, and truth be told there seemed to be a little pervert in her soul as well. What happened was this: one evening, right as the sun was sinking behind the trees, bursting into a thousand flaming tentacles, she turned a corner and there he was. Standing still she tried to look at him out the corner of her eye, for someone had once told her that was the only way to see ghosts. But this gave her a headache and it didn’t really matter how she stood, the ghost was lost in his own little world.
Most ghosts didn’t bother her, except for the ones who had died in amazingly violent accidents. It wasn’t just their tattered bodies, they tended to put on pompous, la-di-da airs, as if no one else had ever gotten sucked under a millstone while grinding wheat. The martyrs were almost all insufferable assholes. Sometimes, she thought, it was as if they had been told that death was nothing more than a private club and had seriously believed it. The young woman had seen the dead pervert before, though she never had the courage to ask him what he had died from; while the words “Fellatio” and “Porcupine” had never once crossed her mind whatever had killed him had left him with a curious “whittled down” look, as if a samurai once had practiced on him day and night.
The young woman watched him, wanting to see what he would do.
The ghost was sitting against his headstone, wearily running his hand through his gore-encrusted hair. His fingertips left wet marks on his neck and traces of blood on his robe as he reached for belt tie that held most of his dismembered body together.
The dead pervert closed his eyes as he tugged the belt open. The young woman stared slack-jaw as he pulled his robes to his hips, exposing something bluer, thicker and more bulbous headed than a sperm whale’s tongue. The young woman bit her lip. This dead man’s cock hypnotized her; long, mottled, pulsing in his hand as if it were alive once again. She wondered what it would feel like insider her. What it would taste like? Sex with her husband had been torture at best, an endless world of disappointments almost all other times. But this: here was a man who could fuck like a bull-god — she blushed in spite of herself.
The ghost stroked himself, moaning with dreadful long gurgling noises. The young woman found that she was getting just as excited, simply by watching him, fascinated at how his hand tightened after each stroke. She could feel the dampness of lust deep in the core of her cunt awakening, the way an underground stream slowly burbles its way to the surface. She knew she was acting crazy just by watching him; fucking around with the dead never ended well, but right then she couldn’t help it. Her fingers slipped inside her kimono. Her fingers made a slush-slush noise as she ran her fingertips up and down her mossy lips. Her wetness intensified, a cum puddle already soaking the inside of her thighs. A flood that was about to break her wide open.
“I want to cum.”
His eyes opened briefly, staring straight ahead, his blood soaking into the ground, flooding the mound he was buried in, lapping at her feet: “make me cum.”
It was a sad sound, that particular pathetic request. The dead only ask for things they cannot do for themselves. The young woman rubbed herself furiously as she thought of him — one of an army of demonic cocks brimming over with sex magic, succubus spawn and lustful poltergeists, all the phantom lovers kept by anal-fuck witches — his ghostly lips sucking away her orgasm from deep inside her, as if life itself depended on it. “I want to cum,” he said again. The young woman knew exactly how he felt, so did she.
She closed her eyes, knowing she was on the cusp herself. She couldn’t help it. She wanted to help him but her body wouldn’t let her. Instead her legs trembled and she bent in half. A long, sad wail rose up all around her.
“I want to cum …”
His words brought her back as she climaxed with sticky, sticky fingers, glowing softly in the dusk. She opened her eyes and found that she was alone; even the blood-soaked grass he had been sitting on had been wiped clean. She felt bad for the poor ghost and said a prayer for such a thwarted soul. Sexual frustration for the dead really was a unique type of hell.
The nun’s grave, however, nameless, uncared for as the rest, attracted her more than all the others. The strange device of the plump, crudely carved calla lily on a field of blood was to her a perpetual source of mystery. It came to pass that, whether by day or night, when the fury of her husband drove her from their home, she would wander to the dead woman’s grave, lie among the thick grass, talk to the one who was buried beneath it.
In time her love for the grave and the nun grew so great that she adorned it after her sensual nature she was only recently discovering.
She cleared away the mourning band blooms that grew so somberly above it, clipped the grass until it grew soft like desire. Then she brought primroses she collected from the green edges of dewy lanes; red poppies from the rice fields; bamboo from the shadowy heart of the forest. She planted them around the grave so that the sleepy nun, when she finally paid attention, would be happy. For when she died, the young woman knew, she hoped someone might make her little grave look as if it had been the resting place of a grand fairy queen.
As long as she could be near the nun then she was content. All summer long she would lie with her arms deep in its swelling mound of grass, rubbing her cheek this way and that, feeling the earth and sunlight warm her, letting her fingers caress the creamy tufts while the soft wind would come to play with her, boldly lifting up her skirt, encouraging her to part her thighs a little more, to let the sun see what no living man or woman had ever beheld except late at night while she was in tears. From the hillside she heard the shouts of the village men at work in the field. Once in a great while one of them would come, to spy on her, perhaps to catch her while she squatted to take a piss, as the other village women would do. But they always left, shame-faced, awed, hushed, stealing back to their companions, speaking in whispers about the young woman that loved a grave.
In truth, she loved how the nun, the sinful nun, could bring such stillness to the churchyard; how she could make the odors of wild flowers so exquisite; cause dappled sunlight to fall through the leaves just so. The young woman would lie on her back for hours, leaving her blue-green kimono open to the world, gazing up at the summer sky, watching the white clouds sailing across it, tracing with her fingers in the air every fold and crease. But when the thunderstorms came up from the sea, which seemed to her nothing more than ancient gods bulging with uncontrolled rage, she would think of her bad husband, once again drunk on cheap rice wine, and turn over on top of the grave, laying her naked cheek against the grass as if it were a sister or a lover.
What do dead nuns dream of? All the pleasures of life that were denied to them? Drugs and waking nightmares and alcohol and cock and endless balls? Are they condemned to always wear those wooly, itchy robes and odd habits, a miserable costume party, whenever they rise from the ground? The dead only ask for things they cannot do for themselves and this nun had died unsatisfied as well, as all people who forbid themselves grace in life. The greatest spiritual gift humans possess is the orgasm, a door to the divine. The words “ecstasy” and “to breathe” come from the same root; when your ego steps aside and something from the outside fills you with a sublime rapture that gives freedom to the soul, who cares where that grace came from? The dark night of the soul is the grace of cumming. But those who have never experienced rapture know nothing about the divine. So the nun had lived and died and had a lot of fucking to make up for.
The summer wore on, passed into autumn. The trees grew sad, shivering as the time approached when the fierce sea winds would rise up to strip them naked once more. The little village was known for its cool summers and icy winters. A Kawanishi winter was not a time for lovers who could only meet under the blue sky, in the warm grass, pressing their bodies together on the rounded mound the nun was buried under. Often the young woman wet the little grave with more than just her cum, often her tears as the sadness of the season came over her and winter approached. She often kissed the dead nun as they lay next to the gray headstone, as if her lover was about to depart for years and years.
One evening towards the end of autumn, when the woods looked grim, the young woman heard on the east wind a fierce, wicked growl, as a dog gives right before the house is entered by danger. From her spot on top of the sinful nun’s grave she could hear the screech of the old iron gate swinging open. Hurriedly rearranging her kimono the young woman crouched in alarm behind the headstone with its calla lily on a sea of blood while the nun herself sighed and sank back under the brown grass, the taste of the young woman’s cum still alive on her tongue.
Coming across the churchyard were five foreign men. Two carried between them what appeared to be a long box, two more carried shovels, while the fifth, a tall stern-faced man clad in black, walked at their head. They smelled unwashed, their clothes debased, a fog reeking of rum and consecrated dust clung to their skin. As the young woman watched the men appeared to aimlessly wander back and forth, often stumbling over half-buried headstones, cursing in a curious, nasal language she did not understand; or, stooping down, they clawed back the moss and vines to examine half-obliterated inscriptions written in the stones. As she watched the young woman’s heart beat crazy-blood under her breast, saying a silent prayer that whatever god had sent these men to desecrate the graves of these poor ghosts it would also take them far away.
The men, with the tall one leading, hunted in the vines and long grass, occasionally pausing to utter blasphemes in Portuguese, German and Dutch that would have sounded at home with her old husband. At last the leader turned, walked towards the grave of the sinful nun. Stooping down he gazed at the design on the gray stone. The moon had just risen, its light fell on the plump lily. The tall man stood erect and beckoned his companions.
“I found it,” he said, in surprisingly good Japanese. “Here.”
With that the four men approached, all five of them stood by the grave. The young woman behind the headstone could hardly breathe.
The two men bearing the long box laid it down in the grass and the young woman saw a coffin of bright redwood covered with silver ornaments. On the lid, wrought in silver, was the device of the lily rising out of a red sea.
“Dig it, men, dig,” the tall man ordered. Straightaway the two that held the shovels plunged them into the grave. The young woman thought her heart would break; no longer able to restrain herself, she flung her body across the mound, cried out to the strange leader.
“Lord Priest!” she cried, weeping, “do not touch my grave! It is all I have to love in the world. Do not touch it; she who is buried here is more than my sister. I tend it. I keep the grass cut. I promise you, if you will leave it to me, that next year I will plant on it the finest flowers I can find in the meadows.”
“Idiot woman, what does a heathen know about the holiness of those buried here?” answered the startled, stern-faced man. “This is a sacred ground; she who is buried here was a young woman like you; but a bride of Christ, a saint. Now your ignorant Shogun has ordered all missionaries out of your country. It is not proper that the bones of a saint should be left behind in a country that refuses to be saved. Across the sea we have built a grand mausoleum for all the dark saints, I have come to take her with us. We shall lay her in vaults of gold and marble and pray to her until Judgement Day. Men, do your work.”
In the moonlight the four men dragged the young woman from the grave by her shoulders, tossing her into the brown grass and fallen leaves. Then they dug up the grave — through her tears she saw the white bones clotted with wet earth get gathered together — placed in the dark wooden coffin. She heard the lid being shut — saw the dark figures shovel the earth back into the empty hole. Then they took up the coffin and faded away into the night. The gate hissed once on its hinges, then the young woman was alone.
She sat silent, tearless, on the grave, listening to the shadows move about in the dark. An evening star came out and shown down the cliff to the sea far below, shown on a moving tide that appeared asleep. The young woman knew, though she was too far away to see, that somewhere out in the dark upon that boundless deep, a ship was crossing the horizon; that by the time that the sun would come up everything would be lost to her.