The photos, grainy and panoramic and curled in an old shoebox, show the five of us jumping off tombstones for a CD cover that never happened. Five young bandmates, my three best friends and a drummer, leaping irreverently in the face of sober truth. We all look young and thin and topped with hair, my pre-decline dreadlocks splayed in full effect, Scott and Jason’s blond pony tails, Jamie’s afro. The cemetery overlooked Scott’s little house and included some of his ancestors.

Our aim was not to desecrate, we left no scribbled declarations or broken concrete angels— the sort of slights intended for the living, of course—we simply chose a foil for our exuberance. And, as young artists tend to be obsessed with death, what better standard from which to take flight than the gloomy markers of our passing.

To be sure, some of the youthful preoccupation with death leans on death’s remoteness. ‘Someday I’ll be all weak and gnarly,’ I remember wondering as a teen, ‘even though right now I feel like this?’ Even the very young feel this draw. My daughter Sofia has been fascinated by death since she was less than three years old. She had been led in this direction by her two grandfathers, both of whom delight in pointing out dead things to Sofia:  birds, worms, squirrels. Old men are preoccupied with death, too.

But mostly, Sofia’s interest came on its own, and she certainly understands the system. She lay in bed two years ago, when she was four, and worked out our family age-rankings: Isaac, the youngest, then her, Sofia, then mommy, then daddy. Then she confirmed with me what she’s been told about how old things die. “So,” she said brightly, “you’re going to die first.” I pointed out that I was only a year older than mommy, but we both sensed that I was cornered. “I’m going to miss you, daddy,” she said.

Sofia loves tombstones. She points them out as we drive by cemeteries and has recently been making her own—most recently jamming two big pieces of paving stone in the front yard grass and personalizing them for Charlie, our very old dog, and my dad, who she calls Pie. Pie, she knows, out-ranks us all. Her tombstones look harrowingly realistic.

When I ask Sofia what she likes so much about tombstones, she says she doesn’t know, and so it is with most of our obsessions—they lie at the heart of us, never entirely explained. She doesn’t know why she’s been consumed with all things Egypt lately, either, although they were supreme markers of their dead, and mummies are even cooler than tombstones.

Sofia was pleased to discover several obelisks, Egyptian in origin, at the old cemetery in the middle of town. She’s been begging for trips to the cemetery, often getting them, and that particular one holds many of our town’s oldest families. We recognized the names of streets and parks that had previously just been arbitrary names. We traced those names with our fingers on little granite houses and various monuments and lots of the traditional slope-shouldered headstones in limestone, marble, concrete. We wondered who they were.

Here and there some other people would drive by us slowly, and I felt a little like we were trespassing because we had no one in particular to visit. We received a few of what I took to be disapproving looks. But when Sofia asked if she could climb a monument, a low, curving wall that announced a prominent local family, I thought of the old band pictures I’d found. I thought of how that day had been sunny like this one and how a few months later four of us returned to almost that exact spot in freezing rain to bury Scott and his poorly designed heart.

I gave Sofia the thumbs up.


“Tombstone,” the second of three flash pieces we’re running by Carlo Matos, churns rhythmically around the images of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday with typical flair. Matos’s work features a remarkable blend of swagger and humility.

In Jason Brown’s poem, “Why We Die,” an old man’s monuments to his deceased loved ones endanger the lives of others. He grapples with the arbitrariness of death and traps himself in a uniquely human and desperate cycle. Brown smoothly draws the reader’s world into that of his character in the poem’s final line.

Justin Evans’ poem, “At the Springville City Cemetery” puts a perfect cap on our “Tombstone” issue. In a sonata-like three parts, the poem builds a spooky, funereal mood, laments the inevitable loss of human association, then in the last movement urges new, more cognizant, connection.







Photo by Ed Brambley