I imagined this as the book interviewing itself and so the questions and answers here are taken directly from the ten essays in The Book of Resting Places. Questions and answers are inverted so that the questions are taken from essays that correspond to their numbered section and move in ascending order, while the answers begin with the tenth and final essay and move in descending order. I thought this would be a fun way for the essays to poke their heads out and see what their neighbors were up to.
Do you visit dad’s tree?
Often, we leave our bodies in trees. This is not just tree transformation, but tree storage. In Scandinavia, the oak’s said to belong to the dead, not just because it was material for coffins, but because it was a coffin itself. Norsemen would search the woods until they crossed a suitable find, and there they’d bury their loved ones in the slingshot split of its trunk.
So, a proposal: If you’re looking for ways to stick around, there are worse fates than coming back a tree.
When are you most yourself? What is the right memory in the face of all we’ll forget?
The night before my father died. I turned out the lights and walked out of his hospital room and made the mistake of looking back before I closed the door.
Oh that was years ago, who can remember?
My mother did. After my father died, my mother contacted the International Star Registry and paid to rename a star Rafael, Judy, and Tommy. The dedication was retroactive to the day of his death, as if that were when the three of us packed up the wooden planets and relocated once more, shooting forth from earth to star. The International Star Registry has no official authority with which to redesignate celestial bodies (they’re really something of a swindle), but that is all well and good because my mother now prefers to forget there’s a ball of gas out there with our names on it. The dedicatory plaque hangs in a corner of my room.
Is all this done because we want to bring the dead back to life or because, in some sense, we want to keep them dead?
Collections are mayhem. We make meaning of them in so many ways.
What is to be done when the only thing left alive in a place also destroys it?
Go to an inexpensive bar with friends, stand outside, smoke Gauloises, and drink too many Peronis. Buy a bottle of limoncello and drink it by the water and try to lift a Smart car from the street onto the curb. Fail. Wander into a dining room and pee in the corner. Stack a number of wine glasses into a pyramid. Sit on a balcony and nurse a cut hand. Watch two friends make out. Project long lost faces onto anonymous strangers.
Don’t we all need to get away from ourselves sometimes?
I told myself he’d be better off dead. I was tired and so was he and it was okay to give up. I thought how if you thinned out Paolo’s face, gave him a darker head of hair, and cast him in dim enough light, you could say: there goes my father.
It was a lie, but it worked.
Did he believe any of this? Are you nuts?
I tried my best to remember—I walked down Alameda street on a warm November night with a skull painted on my face and my father’s photo in hand.
What did your father do?
My father fell thirty years ago and broke his ankle.
Do you like the earth?
I feel like I could just float off into the air and nobody would notice.
What caused this unforeseen and disastrous event, this irrevocable loss? Is it a ghost? Is it my father?
When my mother tells me she summons the dead into her home, she doesn’t mention if my father is one of them.
How then did a group of people convince itself so thoroughly of the opposite? What sort of person would never want to die?
A ghost isn’t necessarily the one that’s dead.
Are they, then, that same person?
Often, since the dead died at all ages and the family dressed identically and assumed monochromatically placid expressions, it becomes difficult to determine, when looking at a photo, just who is the corpse.
Wouldn’t it feel like the gods?
As if we were visiting a living tomb, as if we were trying to grow the thing on good karma alone.
THOMAS MIRA Y LOPEZ is from New York City. He earned an M.F.A. in creative nonfiction from the University of Arizona, and his work has appeared in The Georgia Review, Kenyon Review Online, and The Normal School, among other publications. He currently lives in North Carolina, where he is the 2017–2018 Kenan Visiting Writer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.