Read Elizabeth Hazen’s “Burial at Shanidar” from her collection Chaos Theories
Christmas is the traditional European winter celebration of life. It endows a grace to flurries in the pines, bringing celestial comparisons to moon and star light, it celebrates the beauty, for Christians, of the messianic birth, and it pierces what are the darkest days of the year with hung and twinkling ornaments and fairy lights strewn, and smiles and cheer. In a lot of ways this solstitial celebration is a reaction to and transformation of death. It reminds us that there is a spirit in all things which does not pass moral judgement on what is or is not beautiful or meaningful— that we decorate our houses with greenery and sculpture indicates both our power and our biases. It is we who charge ourselves to bring the divinity. This is no modern tradition, says Elizabeth Hazen. It is not only now that humans ornament their dead with flowers. “See,” she says in her rumination on tradition and humanity, Burial at Shanidar, “Even from a distance we dream of gardens where there should be stone.” And on Christmas especially, it is so wonderful to curl up with a book of poetry, even to read out-loud to one’s family, and bask in the ways we make words, just like the long winter days of dark, meaningful with light and tradition.
BURIAL AT SHANIDAR
Pollen Found in one of the Shanidar Graves suggests that
Neanderthals, too, buried flowers with their dead.
The pollen could be mere coincidence —
traces left by a prehistoric rat
that ate flowers near the grave — but we prefer
believing the cavemen buried blossoms there.
See the bereaved weeping? Over foothills
she lumbers. Mammoths trumpet in the distance.
All flowers were wild then. Grape hyacinth,
cornflowers, hollyhock. She gathers armfuls,
asking Why? She lays the bouquet on his chest,
closes him into the cave floor. Perhaps
she says a prayer. See? Even from this distance
we dream of gardens where there should be stone.
Elizabeth Hazen is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2013, Southwest Review, The Threepenny Review, The Normal School, and other journals. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Yale and her master’s from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins. She teaches English at Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland. Chaos Theories is her first book.