Scattering by Jacqueline West

No hand his bones shall gather or inhume.

—The Iliad

Unity is not a natural state.

Earth and time and gravity

prefer dissolution, decay,

the soft collapse of clinging

things. Dry vines relax

their grasp on walls. Skin turns

to paper, cloth to threads.

All machines unbuild themselves

one day. Cogs rain from broken

clocks, wires unstring and keys

crack. And you, with all your perfect

parts interlocked, your steady

arms and strong legs, your hands

that grasp knives, pens, needles,

flowers, will tumble through

the dirt like other pebbles,

pieces of something that once

stood up and shouted out its name

but that has no name now, no place;

that is everywhere, everyone.


Jacqueline West’s poetry has appeared in Mythic Delirium, Strange Horizons, Dreams & Nightmares, Enchanted Living, and Star*Line. She is also the author of the New York Times-bestselling middle grade series The Books of Elsewhere, the YA horror novel Last Things, and several other award-winning books for young readers. A three-time nominee for both the Rhysling Award and the Pushcart Prize, Jacqueline lives with her family in Red Wing, Minnesota. Find her on Instagram @jacqueline.west.writes or on her website.

Author's note

This piece was inspired by the quoted line from the Iliad. I wanted to explore the collision between the age-old human practice of burial, leaving bodies intact, and the very different way that nature disposes of the dead.