habeas corpus

In June and July of 2010, I read in the news of several exhumations for various reasons: Nicolae and Elena Ceaucescu, the Romanian dictators – their kids think that their bones have been moved and that some other bodies had been put in their place. Bobby Fischer for paternity. Simon Bolivar, of Venezuela, because Hugo Chavez believes Bolivar did not die of tuberculosis, as is commonly thought but that he was murdered. And then in two cases, less famous, as part of murder investigations for DNA evidence – an elderly couple in Missouri and a young woman in North Carolina. I wanted to write about them. 

It was a summer for raising the dead. 

[one] The Ceausescus did not go easily: Elena in spasms on the blood-soaked ground. The three men walk slowly backwards as they empty their rifles, so as not to be caught in ricochet. Nicolae, deranged to the last, sings, “Arise wretched of the earth, arise, prisoners of hunger.” 

Years later, one of the firing squad will say, “I had never even killed a chicken before.”

Their bodies have now been dug up, in accordance with the wishes of the son and the daughter. These are not the bodies of our parents, they say. Their graves have been filled with the bones of the wretched. 

[two] From the national pantheon in Caracas, Hugo Chavez, overcome by emotion, tweets the news of Simon Bolivar’s disinterment: “What impressive moments we have lived tonight. We have seen the bones of the great Bolivar!”

For his belief that Bolivar was murdered, Chavez disturbs two centuries of slumber. “Bolivar lives!” he announces to the illuminated twitterverse. 

[three] For Bobby Fischer, there is the question of Jinky Young. Does his blood flow through her 9-year-old veins? His victories are catalogued by his opening moves, their taxonomy steeped in the language of empire: King’s Indian. King’s Gambit. King’s Knight Opening. 

[four] In one account of their deaths, Lloyd Piatt’s wife is called Irene, but in another, she is referred to as Gladys. Either way, Irene or Gladys, the elderly couple was found dead in what remained of their living room after their house had burned to ash around them.

[five] And what of poor Janet Abaroa, heavy with child, stabbed to death in her own bed, while her infant slept soundly in the next room. 

All buried, now unburied. There are gaping wounds in the earth where their bodies have been. 

[judgment] Some believe that in death, our bodies must be oriented in proper form: head to the west and feet to the east, from where our final judgment is thought to come. 

But we, who are left behind, are too impatient to wait. We crave explanations, demand earthly justice. 

[folly] What folly to believe that our bodies are our own. That our final resting places offer rest. The desires of this earth follow us into the ground. Even death will not satisfy the insatiable hungers of the living. 

Our bodies reduced to bone and dust and DNA, landscapes across which the living drag their knives, as if these bodies have never been soft and warm and wet. As if hot blood has never pulsed through them. 

[rest] When my days are up, set my bones alight. Burn them to ash and let the smoke that rises carry my secrets to the sky and bear a message from this world to the next: 

Requiescat in pace. Rest in peace.