issue 10

may 2018

Waste Management

THIS MORNING I WENT FOR A TRASH RUN, which is to say I cleaned the house. Last night was long, but I was in full control of my faculties, and when morning arrived I came to a decision: throw it out.

It wasn’t a novel idea but I took credit for it just the same. Initially, I tried to solve the problem intellectually, in accordance with my training. As I reminded the Ethics Committee: I’m a trained deontologist. I deal in rules, not consequences, and what happens afterwards is none of my business. Alien rules, alien consequences: that was my position at midnight.

By sunrise I’d abandoned the intellectual approach altogether and tried the so-called spiritual approach. A host of spirits assisted me, their identities unclear but their messages clearly impressed: purgation, they said, with fire. I made out a few faces—Pontius Pilate taking a steam bath, Pythian Apollo burning a barn, and in a flash at the finish St. Francis, who called his sickness a sister. Sister Death wasn’t shy with her feelings for me. She insisted I take out the trash. The public can’t know anything about this, she warned; they’ll take it to the regular dump and in twenty years mine it back up and commodify it.

No, the spiritual host had been clear: I was to trust no one. I was to state my case as clearly as possible and break the matter off at the next logical point. Not an extinction, she assured me, any more than I could extinguish a cold ball of wax, but a firm and a decisive stamping out. As the Protestants say: kill the Church. The body is the Temple of God and death an exhumation. I stayed up through the night and prayed against exhumation. I saw God’s many faces in the loblollies and the bean fields, picking the beans and then boiling them. I ate boiled beans and suffered bean-drunk visions of biblical passages. I saw the passage of peoples across history and lost my way with them, with bagworm moths and dung beetles.

By now a plan was forming in my head: I would throw dirt on the problem and walk away for good. It was the least I could do. I’d brushed the limits of reason and come away an equally inevitable creature, simple and base, and whatever happens next has nothing to do with me. Matter to energy, energy to matter, and the irreversible decomposition of bodies. As a Catholic I tried the impossible: I tried to squeeze the very wetness out of a glass of water. I tried to reduce the intelligible world into one substance and test it empirically—could I fold it seven times? Could I stretch it out to the moon, or dissolve it in a glass of water? As a Protestant I ate peanut butter and thought nothing at all of water solubility. I went seven days without a bowel movement. As I explained to the spiritual host: I’m a bible beater, not a theologian. At least, that was my position at midnight.

So, when the morning finally arrived I bagged up my trash and drove it down the Natchez Trace out of the Chickasaw country cane brakes and into the enduring forests of the Choctaw, where under the clear blue light of an open sky which contained in its scope not just one but all possible universes, I took care of the issue once and for all and I buried my trash in a burial mound. The best of all possible worlds was at hand. It was up to the consequentialists to worry about the future, about tomorrow morning, when some stupid kid will discover my garbage and mistake it for something of interest, for plunder, and they’ll mistake themselves for plunderers: erosion, looting or wild pigs will break up the ancient earthworks and a clumsy little boy will twist an ankle on a piece of trash, upturned in a hundred-year storm of singular power, or an adventurous young girl will prick her finger on a sharp edge while digging for worms in the soft earth; and rather than run away she’ll dig on, incurably curious, as the process begins again, possibilities diminishing, waste accumulating, visions receding across the distance until finally, in the dumb laughter of the final realization, she’ll realize how to arrest the process – and how wasteful a process it’ll be, she’ll think, and how stupid she’ll feel for having wasted it.

Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate at Notre Dame whose work has appeared in Neon Literary Magazine, the Baltimore Review, the Wilderness House Literary Review, \Posit, Flash Frontier, and more.

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