Sunday, February 24, 2008

Petrified of Chairs

I have a character named Buck in one of my stories who died in old age in his rocking chair while he sat out on the front porch of his rural Northern Appalachian mountain home. His children did not know quite what to do with him and they left him there on the porch through seasons. In time the body desiccated and dried out and the brother and sister determined in order to preserve the chair with Buck, as well as his memory for his grandchildren if any should ever come along, that they move him and the chair into the house. This was a delicate task and encumbered arguments between the siblings as to if they valued the chair or the deceased father more. Nevertheless, Buck and the rocking chair were in time sequestered near enough but not too near to the wood stove where the collection in time attracted dust and mismatched marbles in the eyes with one short stub of a #2 pencil wedged in the left nostril and spidery webs. With all neglect of housecleaning as occurred in that domicile eventually the corpse of Buck became inseparable from the chair.

Recently I have come across two likewise preservations of characters, one literary and one historical.

Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), Polish poet, from A Russian Tale:

“In the end the tsar our little father died for good. The bells rang and rang, yet they did not bring his body out. Our tsar had grown into the throne. The legs of the throne had become all mixed up with the legs of the tsar. His arm and the armrest were one. It was impossible to tear him loose. And to bury the tsar along with the golden throne — what a shame.”

Translated by: Czeslaw Milosz


The second account is a story associated with Ann Lee, Mother of the Shakers.

It was 1780 in Massachusetts, USA at a town midway in the state called Harvard (not the University but a small town) where there had come up a Christian sect called Perfectionists that was led by a fellow by the name of Shadrack Ireland. He was something of a David Koresh, Waco, Texas kind of guy that his followers called 'The Man'.

We recall this history every time someone jives at us, “Hey, you the man!”

Anyways, when the Man got it into his head that a transformation in his mortality was eminent he informed his followers that he was not to be buried because he would rise again on the 9th day. He figured it sincere, and they believed, when he said, “I will be back.”

Then he died.

“They barred the Square House against outsiders, and watched the body, still seated in its chair, day and night. Unfortunately it was the height of summer, and after a few days it became necessary to carry the corpse down into the cellar, where in due course it was placed in a coffin and then, in Edgar Allan Poe fashion, bricked up. Several months later all hope of resurrection was abandoned.”

“Two of the Perfectionists, Abijah Worster and David Hoar, eventually broke through into Ireland's cellar tomb, and took his body out into nearby field, just southerly from the wash-house (the precise recording of the location suggests a lingering wish that some good might still come of the tragedy), They buried him in a cornfield, and then, still in the grip of the paranoia that had taken hold of the cult, replanted all the corn afterwards so that the where­abouts of the body could not be determined.”

From: Ann The Word, The Story of Ann Lee, Female Messiah, Mother of the Shakers, The Woman Clothed with the Sun, by Richard Francis.