Sandy McIntosh

from Forty-Nine Guaranteed Ways To Escape Death

1.       Aunt Elizabeth didn't believe in death. "Just go up to the coffin and sprinkle water on his face. He'll wake right up. You’ll see; they always do."

2.       Wes, my college cab-driving colleague told me that the first thing his mother invariably said upon viewing the deceased was, “My, doesn't she look healthy?”

3.       Eileen Tabios’ father died on April 11th, my father on April 10th, my brother on April 9th , and Burt Kimmelman’s mother on April 3rd. Our calendars are filling up. Under the new rules, only one person you know is allowed to die per day. After the 365th there will be no more death.

4.       Ron owned the funeral home where most of my family had been laid out. I’d begun to consider him my personal mortician. One day I met him at the bank. “I sold the business,” he told me. “My friend and I were born the same day. We turned sixty. My friend dropped dead at our birthday dinner. It shocked me. I’d never really thought about death, I guess.” He had to do something, he said, so he was going skiing.

5.       Joseph Heller’s character, Yossarian, cultivated boredom to prolong his life. The actor, George Saunders’ suicide note read: “I was bored.”

6.       In the end, Carlos Castaneda, unable to burn with “the fire from within” implored his disciples to “intend me forward. Intend me forward!” beyond death. But despite his disciple’s intentions, he died. He was cremated. Later, his disciples told the world that he had not died at all. Instead, he had entered the realm of the “third attention.” They continue to defend their belief against all. “Intend!” they shout at their doubters. “Intend! Intend!”

7.       A lesson from Scientific American, 1980: “We used to believe in the particle theory [of light], but now we believe in the wave theory, because all who believed in the particle theory have died.”

8.       On Halloween night, 1982, at Sleepy Hollow cemetery in Upstate New York, two boys found a newly opened grave, tunneled to the adjacent one, opened the coffin and propped the corpse against the tombstone. The next day, as the funeral of the husband began, relatives were amazed to discover his dead wife posed as if awaiting his arrival. “She always said she’d see the old man dead,” a relative recalled. “I just didn’t know how she’d pull it off.”

9.       From an Internet story: “Yes, I realized, my patented Acme Hero Anti-Death Suit had saved my life yet again.”

10.      Bessie the Cow, our childhood pet, her brass bell clanging merrily as she moos: Moo, moo. No dear, we don't eat the cow. We eat the beef, the boeuf, the steak, the fatted calf. No, not the calf. We eat the veal. And not the bah, bah lamb but the mutton. And not the bunny but the lapin, the hare, the game. We hunt, and it's not only for the eating but also for the immortality to be found in transubstantiation of fish into seafood, pig into pork, and deer into venison. But when there's no game afoot, when there's famine in the land then there remains only Bessie the Cow. How do we separate Bessie from the children, and the children from the starkness of the moment? We take the merry bell from Bessie's neck, lead her to the barn, and send the children home. “Cheeseburgers for dinner!” we promise.

11.      Fred told his friend he napped eight times a day and enjoyed a long night’s sleep, as well. “Why waste your life that way?” asked his friend. “There’ll be plenty of time to sleep when you’re dead.” “Ah,” answered Fred. “But when I’m dead there will no longer be time to dream.”

12.      When my friends and I were young we watched horror flicks on midnight TV. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman and The Mummy. From these we learned that to cheat death one must become a stalking, devouring monster. On the third day, when the rock was rolled from Jesus’ grave, his friends must have been terrified.

13.      When George’s father died he complained to a religious friend that, no matter how much he had prayed, his father had not come back from the dead, as Jesus had promised. “You have only to wait for the right time. It could be one year, or one thousand years. Just wait.” George’s heart was uplifted. “Thanks,” he told his friend. “I didn’t know you could do that. I’ll just sit right here until it happens.”

14.      Houdini visited the graves of family members and magicians constantly, examined the long-dead bodies of his father and brother when they were reburied, and once traveled out of his way to see the burned bodies from a schoolhouse fire. As someone remarked: “For a man who had resurrected himself so many times, how strong a barrier could death be?”

15.      Don’t bury your old loves. They’ll drag you into the ground with them. If you can’t let them drift up into the sky, at least run with them through the forest of your longing.

16.      “The earth is suffocating,” wrote Frederic Chopin at the end, in 1849. He begged his friends to have his chest cut open so that he wouldn’t be buried alive.

17.      A method to avoid live burial, 1850: "A pull cord is built into the coffin. It runs to the top of the grave and thence to a bell. Should the occupant awake after burial he need only pull continuously on the cord to ring the bell, which will serve as an alarm. The caretaker, should there be one present, will hear the bell and then re-open the grave, releasing its occupant.”

18.      When all seems lost, write a letter to your departed loved one and pay to have it printed on the obituary page. Apparently, the deceased read obituary pages, judging by how many letters to them are printed. Now the problem is to figure out which newspapers your own departed ones read.

19.      “They sell charms here that ward off death,” said Katya, my Grecian beauty. She told me they are blue with an eye painted on to deflect death. You wear them on a necklace or a bracelet. According to Katya, the poet Homer is said to have worn one on his forehead and warned his enemies: “I may be blind but I’ve got my eye on you!” She said you could also purchase a blue bead to wear instead of an eye. Blue is the color that wards off the death-stare, but it is also commonly thought that blue-eyed people are exceptional givers of it. “So beware when a blue-eyed person pays you a compliment, it could be your last,” she warned me. (However, modern science has proved that death can result from the actions of people of other eye colors, as well. —ed.)

20.      Grandfather cautioned: “Don’t grow old!” I promised I wouldn’t.

21.      A symptom to watch carefully: You believe you’ve forgotten more than you can ever forget.

22.      We took a high school art trip to the Guggenheim Museum. They were showing the French Impressionists. At the top of the long spiral gallery was a painting by Van Gogh, "Starry Night." A man glared at me. He leaned over and hissed, "I'm standing right here so you better not make fun of my painting!" I didn't realize until later that if he really was Van Gogh he must have been well over 150. Also, he'd grown his ear back.

23.      Two Recipes: For Death, construct an effigy of yourself. Go to the cemetery and get some dirt. Try to do this during a waning moon, when the moon is in Scorpio or Capricorn. Construct a small box. Light a black candle. Put the effigy into the box. Bury it in the graveyard. Do not think about the spell as this will interfere with its working. For Life, reverse these instructions.

24.      Do not open this door. Do not open that door. Do not open the door over here, or the door over there. Or the inside door. Or the outside door. Neither the porch door, nor the front door. Neither the closet door, nor the refrigerator door. You don’t need to know what’s behind Door Number One, or Door Number Two, or Door Number Three. Don’t open the door marked “Private.” Don’t open the door marked “Come In.” Don’t open the trap door. Don’t open the fire door. Don’t open the coffin door.

25.      Do not live at home. Most fatalities occur in the home.

26.      Make your last day at least 25 hours long.

27.      Be too goddamn mean to die.

28.      My children (if I had any) tug at my shirtsleeve. “Daddy,” they beg. “Please don’t die.” Although I do not have children, I promise them anyway: “I won’t die. I’ll stay alive. For you.”

29.      Make a list like this, but don’t stop.

Sandy McIntosh’s collections of poetry include Between Earth and Sky (Marsh Hawk Press), Endless Staircase (Street Press), Earth Works (Long Island University), Which Way to the Egress? (Garfield Publishers) and The After-Death History of My Mother (Marsh Hawk Press); and two chapbooks, Obsessional (Tamafyhr Mountain Poetry) and Monsters of the Antipodes (Survivors Manual Books) .

His prose includes Firing Back, with Jodie-Beth Galos (John Wiley & Sons), From A Chinese Kitchen (American Cooking Guild), and The Poets In the Poets-In-The-Schools (Minnesota Center for Social Research, University of Minnesota). His poetry and essays have been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Nation, the Wall Street Journal, American Book Review, and elsewhere. His original poetry in a film script won the Silver Medal in the Film Festival of the Americas.

He is Managing Editor of Marsh Hawk Press.

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