'The Family Master Stock'
Performed at Words on The Waves' Late Night Lit, Bar Toto Ettalong
[story starts at 0:47]
'When I die I want to be eaten by scavenging birds.'
Performed at Words on The Waves 2023 Writers Festival Edition of Late Night Lit.
When I die I want to be eaten by scavenging birds. The fire is not for me, nor the coffin or the shroud. I don’t particularly want to merge with the earth, or have my remains reborn through the roots of a tree. The thought of donating my body to science is cold and uninviting and the watery grave is a special type of hell I cannot entertain. But to be torn apart by scavenging birds… well it has its own sensuality. I like the idea that my meat, whipped by high altitude atmospheric currents, would have a view as it dangled from the beak of a death eating bird. It cheers me to imagine the sense of community the scavengers would have as they toil away, processing my corpse. And my heart warms at the thought that one of my kidneys could be regurgitated from the bald throat of a mumma vulture and retched into the oesophagus of her hungry young.
I am deeply attracted to the toughness of this method of cadaver disposal. Alive, my body is a sensitive thing. It's intolerant of stuff like gluten, too much sugar, and waking up before 8am. Take me out of my comfort zone: I won’t shit for weeks, and I can’t eat three day old rice without suffering digestive upsets. But dead, and devoured by scavenging birds, my body would become the biltong of the skies. In my living body, attempting assisted pull ups is an emotional experience, and running on a treadmill for three and a half minutes has the humiliating side effect of needing a good long cry on the gym floor at the end; even in a gentle stretch of my glutes I weep, and if you ask me to commit to a daily physical practice of, well, anything, I will admit defeat by day four. There is no way my body is capable of the endurance needed to decompose in the earth and bring forth a tree. But if I were to be eaten by scavenging birds… My body would be liberated.
If I were to have a Sky Funeral, my body would be carried to a platform atop a mountain. I would be laid on top of the world with only the great beyond (and a spattering of fluffy white clouds) in my sights. A cool wind would caress my skin. It would be silent up there and the silence would have an expansive quality. (Compare this to ‘silent as the grave’: not expansive. Airless. Stifling. Suffocating. A hard pass, thank you.) But up there, lying naked on a vulture’s dinner plate, my spirit would dissolve into the skies as the kettle descends, — yes I did say kettle, that is the collective noun for vultures when they are flying. Although it lacks the gravitas I was hoping to bring to this moment, and the thought of a giant kettle flying through the air, about to pour boiling water over my exposed flesh is well… hot. Let’s see… collective nouns for vultures… Ooh! A congregation, a flight, a looming, a rookery, a rout, a soar, a solitary, a volume, a volt… Aha! A vortex. The vortex of vultures, not squawking, but hissing and occasionally snorting like pigs and barking like faraway dogs, would descend to feast on my platter.
Gosh, it’s really something to be wanted so very badly.
Given a large enough vortex, my flesh would be devoured in about fifteen minutes. I would be nothing more than bones on a platform, my spirit dissolved and the rest of me inside the stomachs of one hundred scavenging birds. If my Sky Funeral were held in Tibet my bones would then be pulverised, mixed with yak butter and barley flour and rolled into a doughy ball. This final incarnation of my physical form, so wholesome, would be tossed into the air and the vultures would flock to it once more. They would finish me.
Can you think of a more satisfying end? I can’t. I don’t enjoy encores and the thought that The End here on Earth is merely a layover is fucking exhausting. If I stay in someone’s home, I like to leave no trace when I go. So please, don’t put me in a coffin, or burn me in a fire, box up my ashes for my son. Feed me to the scavenging birds, and then thank them for their service.
'Who Be Brave' — 2013
Original spoken word poetry performed (pregnant) at Lightening in a Bottle Festival, USA as part of Lucent Dossier Experience. The music was written by Jeff Bova for the piece, which was funded by a New Works Grant from Australia Council. The work went on to be performed at Coachella in 2014.